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The literature relating to art and psychoanal- 
ysis is enormous and scattered through countless technical and 
academic journals and specialized publications, many of which are 
now unavailable. One of the main purposes of this collection is to 
make accessible in one volume some of the outstanding contribu- 
tions in this field. 

But, faced with so many possible choices, what was the prin- 
ciple of selection? Why this piece, it might be asked, and not that 
one? The selection, like most others, was based not on a single 
but on many criteria. In some cases merit was the yardstick; in 
others historical interest. Some pieces were chosen as representing 
a special approach; others as the work of an important figure. 
Most of the contributions are by practicing analysts, but there are 
also some by well-known writers. They fall into three general 
categories: studies of single works of art or creative artists, theo- 
retical essays, and literary pieces. 

A number of papers that bear on the subject, such as Meyer 
Schapiro's brilliant essay on Leonardo, have not been included 
for reasons that have nothing to do with their quality. Some papers 


vi Preface 

were too long, permission for others could not be obtained. Ernest 
Jones's famous work on Hamlet, on the other hand, is already 
available as a paperback. Almost all the pieces included are about 
literature, as the studies in the other arts are much inferior — 
perhaps because ideology is more easily assimilated than form into 

A cknowledgments 

Thanks are due to the authors, as well as to the 
following publishers and individuals, for permission to reprint copy- 
righted material from the sources indicated: 

American Imago, for "The Myth in Jane Austen" by Geoffrey 
Gorer (1941); "Myth and Folk Tale" by Geza Roheim (1941); 
"The Three Women in a Man's Life" by Theodor Reik (1949); 
"Trends in Affectlessness" (here retitled "The Stranger") by 
Nathan Leites (1947); and "Heinrich von Kleist" by Fritz Wittels 
(1954) ; all © by American Imago. 

Duke University Press, for "The Ghost of Henry James" by Saul 
Rosenzweig, a revised version of an article originally published in 
Character and Personality, © 1943 by Duke University Press. 

Imago Publishing Co. Ltd., for "Poe and the Function of Litera- 
ture," from Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe by Marie Bona- 
parte (London 1949). 

International Journal of Psycho- Analysis, for "Dostoevsky and 
Parricide" by Sigmund Freud (1945), reprinted also by permission 
of Ernst L. Freud; and "The Death of Hamlet's Father" by Ernest 
Jones (1948). 


viii Acknowledgments 

International Universities Press, Inc., for "The Contribution and 
Limitations of Psychoanalysis," from Psychoanalytic Explorations 
in Art by Ernst Kris, © 1952 by International Universities Press, 
Inc.; and "Jonathan Swift," from Swift and Carroll by Phyllis 
Greenacre, © 1956 by International Universities Press, Inc. 

Julian Press, Inc., for "The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary 
Art" by Franz Alexander, from Explorations in Psychoanalysis, 
edited by Robert Lindner, © 1953 by Julian Press, Inc. 

Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., for "Life and Creation," from Art and 
Artist by Otto Rank, © 1932 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; "Freud 
and the Future," from Essays of Three Decades by Thomas Mann, 
© 1933, 1937, 1947 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; and "Maude 
Bodkin and Psychological Criticism," from The Armed Vision by 
Stanley Edgar Hyman, © 1947, 1948 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 

W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., for "Alice in Wonderland," from Eng- 
lish Pastoral Poetry by William Empson, first published 1938 by 
W. W. Norton & Co., Inc. 

Oxford University Press, and Edmund Wilson, for "Philoctetes: 
The Wound and the Bow," from The Wound and the Bow by 
Edmund Wilson, © 1929 by Edmund Wilson. 

Partisan Review, for "The Image of the Father" by Simon O. 
Lesser; "Art and Anxiety" by Robert Gorham Davis (1945), here 
revised and expanded; "Writers and Madness" by William Barrett 
(1947); and "Kafka and the Dream" by Selma Fraiberg (1956), 
here somewhat expanded; all © by Partisan Review. 

The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, for "Psychic Trauma and Produc- 
tive Experience in the Artist" by Henry Lowenfeld, © 1941 by 
The Psychoanalytic Quarterly. 

Rinehart and Co., Inc., and Erich Fromm, for "Franz Kafka," 
from The Forgotten Language, © 1951 by Erich Fromm. 

The Sewanee Review, for "Archetype and Signature" by Leslie A. 
Fiedler, © 1952 by The University of the South. 

The University of Chicago Press, for "Freud — and the Analysis of 
Poetry" by Kenneth Burke, from The American Journal of Soci- 
ology, © 1939 by the University of Chicago. 

The Viking Press, for "Art and Neurosis," from The Liberal 
Imagination by Lionel Trilling, © 1945, 1947 by Lionel Trilling. 


Preface v 

Introduction: Art and Neurosis xiii 

Part One 

Sigmund Freud 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 3 

Selma Fraiberg 

Kafka and the Dream 21 

Marie Bonaparte 

Poe and the Function of Literature 54 

Saul Rosenzweig 

The Ghost of Henry James 89 

Phyllis Greenacre 

Jonathan Swift 112 

Erich Fromm 

Franz Kafka 136 

Ernest Jones 

The Death of Hamlet's Father 146 



Theodor Reik 

The Three Women in a Man's Life 151 

Fritz Wittels 

Heinrich von Kleist— Prussian 

Junker and Creative Genius 165 

Part Two 

William Empson 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 185 

Geoffrey Gorer 

The Myth in Jane Austen 218 

Simon O. Lesser 

The Image of the Father 226 

Nathan Leites 

The Stranger 247 

Part Three 

Ernst Kris 

The Contribution and 

Limitations of Psychoanalysis 271 

Henry Lowenfeld 
^ Psychic Trauma and 

Productive Experience in the Artist 292 

Otto Rank 

Life and Creation 306 

Geza Roheim 

Myth and Folk Tale 333 

Franz Alexander 

The Psychoanalyst Looks 

at Contemporary Art 346 

Part Four 

Thomas Mann 

Freud and the Future 369 

William Barrett . 

Writers and Madness 390 

Kenneth Burke 

Freud — and the Analysis of Poetry 412 

Contents xi 

Robert Gorham Davis 

Art and Anxiety 440 ^ 

Leslie A. Fiedler 

Archetype and Signature 454 

Stanley Edgar Hyman 

Maude Bodkin and Psychological Criticism 473 

Lionel Trilling 

Art and Neurosis 502 V 

Edmund Wilson 

Philoctetes: The Wound and the Bow 521 v 

Index 539 

Introduction: Art and Neurosis 

Almost from the beginning, our culture has had 
a double image of the creative man: he was believed to be ob- 
sessed, perhaps even mad, yet at the same time he was thought to 
have some extraordinary gift of insight, some great wisdom not 
shared by ordinary people. This apparent contradiction has never 
been resolved; sometimes it was the normality of the artist that 
was emphasized, while at other times his prophetic powers were 
stressed, though usually the question was solved by ignoring it. 
With the development of psychoanalysis, the problem has taken 
on a new cast. At first, it was simply assumed that art is in some 
manner connected with neurosis, though there was disagreement 
about whether art expresses neurosis or the catharsis of the neuro- 
sis. More recently, however, the trend has been mostly the other 
way, to dissociate the work of art from the neurosis of the author, 
and to regard it as a "normal" achievement, a triumph of health 
over sickness. 

This more wholesome view of the creative process is often put 
forward in the language of psychoanalysis, but it also obviously 
reflects the need for personal tranquillity and social adjustment 
that dominates the mood of the present. For one thing, the dis- 



covery that neurosis is curable, putting it within the domain of 
health and hygiene, was bound to make creative aberration less 
palatable. Even more important, the association of psychological 
disorder with the estrangement of the modern artist — as in the 
cult of the unique, from Rimbaud to Dylan Thomas — has made 
it difficult to distinguish the neurotic from the anarchic personality. 
Though it is still not clear whether the Bohemian dedication to 
depravity simply releases neurosis, or is tied up with it, we think 
of the two as belonging together. Hence our feelings about the 
relation of neurosis and creativity are likely to be colored by our 
views on the social position of the artist; and in a period of re- 
spectability and cultural timidity it is not surprising that abnor- 
mality and unconventionally are often confused, and both frowned 

When we speak of the artist as "mad" or "neurotic" the terms 
do not simply refer to the state of his mental health; they give a 
mythic picture of the creative man: inspired, rebellious, dedicated, 
obsessive, and alienated, as well as neurotic; and they also suggest 
the evil and irrational underworld of experience dredged up by 
the modern writer. Thomas Mann's celebration, for example, of the 
role of disease in the making of art stems from a sense of the 
moral and psychological ambiguities in any work of art as well 
as in the life of the artist, and from Mann's belief that the artist 
has been chosen to enrich the imagination of the community though 
he is in some ways outside its pale. On the other hand, many recent 
demands for normality have questioned the need for anything 
against the grain, irresponsible, or offbeat in art. The fact is that 
the work of writers like Gide or Joyce represents a different kind 
of experience from that of the common run of fiction; and it is 
this experience, rather than the neurosis of the author, that is re- 
jected in the name of normality, which is taken to be synonymous 
with whatever is conventional and popular. 

Perhaps it is because philistinism has been associated with 
health, in our culture, that many of us prefer to make some con- 
nection, however loose, between art and neurosis, though there 
is still very little evidence of a scientific nature to support such a 
view. It is true that most advanced art, at least in our time, seems 
to have thrived in an atmosphere of abnormality, and that the 

Introduction: Art and Neurosis xv 

lives of most creative figures read like case histories. But, as Lionel 
Trilling has pointed out in a remarkably cogent essay, there is no 
reason to believe that neurosis itself is the creative force. There 
is also the question of the work: is it neurotic or not? — and if not, 
what does it mean to say that the artist is a neurotic? Even if 
neurosis is shown to have something to do with art, we still have 
to ask whether all neuroses are related to all art or whether only 
some kinds of art are traceable to certain neuroses, and whether 
the neurosis of the artist produces, conditions, or is transmuted 
or sublimated into art. To put the question in a more general way, 
what we need to know is how the neurosis of the artist, which is; 
a form of disorder, can shape a work of art that has value and 
meaning for an entire civilization. Thus we are really questioning 
what was once assumed: that madness and wisdom may go hand 
in hand. 

One reason we know so little about the relation of neurosis to 
art is that we know so little about art. It might have been ex- 
pected that psychoanalysis would have clarified some of these 
questions; and actually it has thrown some light on one side of 
the problem, by defining the neurotic mechanism and by giving 
an exact account of the neurosis of many writers, painters, musi- 
cians. But, despite the vast number of studies on the subject by 
psychoanalysts, we still have no answer to some of the basic ques- 
tions. Much of the writing on art by psychoanalysts combines bad 
taste — as when Death of a Salesman is treated as a classic — with 
some contrived, jargonized theory. The approach to painting and 
music, 1 based largely on a "literary" version of content, has been 
most primitive, and its value has been biographical rather than 
aesthetic. But even the best of psychoanalytic writing in this vein 
suffers from the lack of an accepted philosophy of art; hence it 
has had either to adopt or improvise one. Some analysts have 
taken art to be a form of communication, others a mode of ex- 
pression, and the traditional definitions of meaning, form, content, 
and audience have all found their way into psychoanalytic writing. 
Most aesthetic systems in the past have been no better than the 
insight that went into their formulation, and when they simply are 
tacked on to some doctrine in another field, like psychoanalysis, 


the result is at best a tour de force. Even so brilliant an essay as 
Ernest Jones's famous study of Hamlet, which traces the Oedipal 
motives in the play, makes the assumption that works of art are 
great and lasting when, like Hamlet, they deal with primal con- 
flicts. Such an assumption is, of course, too simple and schematic, 
and though Jones's piece does enlarge our understanding of the 
play, it is not, in itself, a first-rate example of literary criticism or 
of aesthetics. 

Freud's few attempts to explain the nature of art are not very 
impressive, though, of course, Freud himself — like most outstand- 
ing thinkers — was superior not only to his followers, but often to 
his own theories. Perhaps the least impressive of Freud's observa- 
tions was that it was the desire for fame, power, and the love of 
women that lay behind the creative will of the writer. Nor do I 
find a satisfactory explanation of the creative act in the analogies 
to daydreaming and fantasy building noted by Freud. As for the 
origin of the creative gift, Freud insisted on many occasions that 
psychoanalysis had no special explanation for this mysterious force, 
though the concept of sublimation would suggest that all the 
achievements of civilization come from the taming of the id. 
Freud's contribution to the problem of art lies mainly, I think, 
in the examples he set in his profound essays on such figures as 
Dostoevsky and Leonardo, where he made a number of interesting 
correlations between the neurotic pattern of these artists' lives and 
the content of their works, touching on the meaning of those corre- 
lations in a purely speculative and tentative manner. 

Any total approach to art that sees the creative gift or process 
as a form of neurosis is bound to produce a lopsided and absurd 
theory. If art is considered as a form of sublimation, or a variety 
of dream or fantasy, or even as a therapeutic activity, then we 
have no criteria for judging it, nor any way of distinguishing it 
from other kinds of dream or fantasy, or therapy. And as for the 
many ingenious exercises, revealing art to be oral or anal, sadistic 
or masochistic, narcissist, totemic, the best that can be said of 
them is that they apply equally well to a doodle, a Grandma Moses, 
or a Jackson Pollock, though, of course, they cover more of the 
doodle. Nor can we attribute the power or significance of a work 

Introduction: Art and Neurosis xvii 

of art to the neurosis of the author, for then we would have to 
assume that its meaning lay wholly in its psychological content, 
which corresponded not only to the neuroses of the author, but 
to those of the audience as well. Such a novel as The Possessed 
would have to be read merely as a story of the criminal mind, and 
we could not account for its stature as a political novel. 

It seems meaningless to speak of neurotic art, except in refer- 
ring to the exercises of mental patients, which might yield some- 
thing neurotic — or psychotic 2 — but not art. On the other hand, 
it is equally meaningless to speak of a healthy art or of the creative 
act as a triumph of health over illness, since the term healthy can 
only be pejorative: it does not describe a specific form or content. 
If all we mean by a triumph of such health is that instead of col- 
lapsing a writer produced a poem or story, then this is only an- 
other way of saying that his neurosis did not completely paralyze 
him. To characterize, for example, Rilke's spurts of productivity, 
in between long fallow periods, as signs of health is simply to 
juggle the word so as to define writing as healthy. One might just 
as well call it neurotic, since the process of composition was 
obsessive and dreamlike. Certainly the creative act often resembles 
compulsive fits and states of hallucination, and all we gain by 
calling it healthy rather than neurotic is the reassurance of know- 
ing that we are not reveling in disease. 

In what sense, then, does neurosis have something to do with 
art? To begin with, there is the fact that many, if not most, writers, 
painters, and musicians in the modern period have been neurotic. 
It is true, of course, that people who are not creative may also be 
neurotic; hence the popular belief that the connection between art 
and neurosis has been much exaggerated. Perhaps the only way 
to settle this question in a seemingly scientific way would be to 
tabulate neuroses to determine whether creative people suffer more 
than others, and whether their neuroses are different in kind or 
degree. In a time when every conceivable question has become 
the subject of a poll, it is surprising that no statistical study of 
neurosis ever has been attempted. But even if such a study showed, 
as I suspect it would, that creative people are distinguished not by 
their neurosis but by their creations, it still might be true that 
neurosis, though not sufficient for the production of art, may be 


necessary for it. Recently a study of a German writer and thinker 
appeared under the title, The Mind of a Genius. Though it was 
obviously not its intent, what struck one most about the book was 
the fact that the subject's genius lay not in his achievement but 
in his personality and intellectual habits, which combined boldness 
and originality with eccentricity. Somewhere in his make-up was 
an essential flaw, perhaps in his intelligence, but he had what 
might be called a neurotic predisposition toward ideas. 

Strictly speaking, a neurosis is an insoluble conflict within the 
unconscious that may lead to aberration in one's behavior or state 
of mind. In this technical sense, neurosis would be pertinent to art 
only if we thought of art itself as an aberration or sublimation. 
But using the term more loosely, in neurosis, and psychosis, there 
is often a distortion of experience, so that certain human events 
and relations are given an undue — sometimes obsessive — empha- 
sis. In someone who is not creative, a distorted view of reality is 
part of his illness and inability to adjust, and may be of no intel- 
lectual interest: indeed, the paranoia of a trivial mind is incredibly 
boring. In someone like Kafka, however, the paranoid twist in 
both the life and the writing was coupled with a gift of a high 
order and a mind capable of original and striking observations. 
The same was true in D. H. Lawrence, whose sexual dreams 
would have had only a clinical interest without his intellectual 

Now much modern writing is centered in some obsessive theme 
or some biased image of human affairs, growing out of the fixa- 
tions of the author. Take even so constructed a work as The 
Waste Land, whose meanings would seem to be mainly cultural 
and religious. But what Eliot is concerned with, in our culture and 
religion as well as in our personal lives, is the breakdown of 
identity, and the image of breakdown is provided by the sexual 
ambiguity of Tiresias, 3 which I take to be the psychological core 
of the poem. The homosexual theme crops up constantly, usually 
in an explicit way, but I think it is also expressed symbolically in 
the perversion of feelings and the spiritual impotence running 
through The Waste Land. One would have to know more about 
Eliot's private preoccupations to speculate further about the effect 
of his neurosis on his entire vision, but I think it is reasonable to 

Introduction: Art and Neurosis xix 

assume that this vision reflects the more personal elements in his 

This is not to say that The Waste Land is a neurotic poem, any 
more than, say, Gulliver's Travels or even The Trial are neurotic 
works, though Swift and Kafka were known to be mentally dis- 
turbed to the point of partial breakdown and inability to function 
in crucial areas of their lives. What then does it mean to say that 
Swift's or Kafka's writings contained some central distortion of 
experience traceable to the neuroses of the authors? The answer, 
I think, is that their neurotic impressions of the world coincided 
with impressions that were not neurotic and served to organize 
and energize the latter. In the case of Kafka, the paranoia, for 
example, that colored his personal and sexual relations became 
in his fiction a kind of psychological focus for a world in which 
the characters are the victims of organized ignorance and au- 
thority; and the living Kafka's search for his psychic identity be- 
comes in his writing a search for a religious and metaphysical 
identity. The work of neurotic writers can be characterized as 
neurotic only by reducing its total meaning to its seemingly neu- 
rotic components — which, in turn, are assumed to be identical with 
the neurosis of the author. Thus Kafka's novels can be considered 
neurotic only if we interpret them, as some analysts and critics 
actually have done, as fictionalized projections of Kafka's own 

Now we come to another paradox: for the unique combination 
of neurotic experience with some apparently objective or plausible 
view of the world, such as we find in writers like Kafka or Eliot, 
seems to be characteristic of much modern literature. Indeed, it 
is this combination that we designate as the modern experience, 
and this experience, though seemingly shared by a sufficient num- 
ber of readers and writers to make up a tradition, has at the same 
time certain affinities with neurotic experience. Such themes as 
loneliness, self-doubt, hypersensitivity, loss of identity, estrange- 
ment from the community — all have their counterparts among the 
common neuroses; and the two modes of experience, normal and 
abnormal, often have been joined in such a way that it becomes 
meaningless to distinguish between them. How can we set Swift's 


neurotic misanthropy apart from the powerful satire of his writ- 
ings, which, ironically enough, are assigned to school children for 
didactic as well as literary reasons? If Gide's homosexuality was a 
"sickness," what shall we call the moral implications of his concern 
with the truth of one's own being? Is Death in Venice a study of 
degeneration or a parable of a modern writer? In each case I 
suppose we would have to say the content was both normal and 
abnormal, but that is the same as saying it is neither; or perhaps, 
to put it more precisely, there has been in each case a conjunction 
of neurotic experience with experience that we assume to be 
normal — by which we apparently mean an experience shared by 
a sufficient number of cultivated people to make it seem objective, 
general, and typical. 

If some such combination of the objective and neurotic is char- 
acteristic of modern writing, we can only speculate about the way 
they have been brought together. It has been suggested at various 
times, particularly when our political morale has been low, that 
our civilization is neurotic; this would, of course, make it unnec- 
essary to explain any single neurotic strain in our art or culture. 
I suspect that describing an entire culture as neurotic is nothing 
more than a juggling of terms to make all art — what about our 
philosophy and our science? — neurotic by definition. If our civili- 
zation is neurotic, then everything and everyone is neurotic, and 
we have no way of judging it or knowing whether a re-creation of 
it is distorted or not. The collectivization of neurosis transforms 
the neurotic artist into a psychological conformist. 

One simple explanation of the way neuroses legitimately find 
their way into any of the arts would be that the writer's world 
has been created mainly by his intelligence acting on what he has 
inherited from his culture, and that his neuroses are then brought 
into play as he personalizes his experience. Another might be that 
only writers endowed with certain kinds of neuroses, along with 
their imaginative gifts, can thrive, in the Darwinian sense, at any 
given time. Someone like Hemingway, who has put his adolescent 
ideas to literary use, might not have been so successful in a classi- 
cal period that put a premium on intellectual order and maturity. 
Or, perhaps, a process of natural selection takes place even earlier, 
before creation begins, and only certain kinds of neurotics are 

Introduction: Art and Neurosis xxi 

able to make the break with the community necessary to enter 
the unstable world of the arts. Surely, there must be some sig- 
nificance in the large number of homosexuals peopling the intel- 
lectual and artistic professions, especially the dance and the thea- 
ter, today. We know that the faculty we call talent is not sufficient 
to produce "art": thousands of people have enough verbal and 
narrative skill to write and even to find a market. Our idea of art 
embraces, in addition to control of the medium, a profound and 
arresting sense of the world, and it is conceivable that this power, 
though mainly intellectual, is enhanced by a disposition, which we 
would call neurotic, to reject conventional attitudes. 

The question remains as to how a view of the world that has 
been warped, if only partially, by neurosis can be said to be truth- 
ful, objective, or morally stimulating. The question is bound up 
with many philosophical considerations, including the very nature 
of art and truth, that are themselves in dispute. But this much 
can be said: the idea that art is the dispenser of moral and philo- 
sophical truths is only a myth, though a prevailing one in our 
culture. Like most other myths, this one has great suggestive 
power, linking art to other pursuits that enlarge our vision and 
understanding, but it cannot be applied literally without falling 
into didacticism. 

From the time of Plato and Aristotle there has been an almost 
constant pressure, from many different sources, to enlist the arts 
in the service of some higher aim or some larger truth. Rarely and 
only for short spells was it permissible for a novel, say, or a paint- 
ing to steer clear of the claims of morality, politics, or religion; 
usually it was considered frivolous and irresponsible to think of the 
arts in their own terms. At first there was the messianism of Chris- 
tianity, then the Protestant ethic, and more recently the growth of 
utilitarian ideals, the development of a social conscience, and the 
confusion of art with education in the spread of middle and high 
culture — all these forces have conspired to get us to believe that 
art is supposed to make us better and wiser. There may be some 
ambiguity about whether art is by nature concerned with truth and 
morality or whether that is its ideal purpose towards which it 
must strive at all times. In either case the effect is the same: art 


has become an easy prey in our culture to all kinds of theories and 
causes that claim to have discovered some medical, moral, or 
historical truth. 

Now part of the difficulty obviously comes from the fact that 
none of the arts is self-contained. Despite the efforts of many for- 
malist critics to define a work of art as the sum of its textual or 
plastic qualities and to judge it mostly in technical terms, the fact 
is that art has always absorbed the moods and currents of the 
civilization that produced it. And though I do not want to go into 
esthetics at this point, I think it can be said that we regard a work 
of art as good or bad because of the way its formal qualities are 
combined with what we roughly call its vision, or its values, or its 
range of consciousness. But this is not at all the same thing as 
saying that literature, to take the art most filled with content, has 
a moral purpose, a position which has been quite fashionable ever 
since the idea of political responsibility was abandoned, or that it 
reflects or asserts something known as "truth," a point of view 
that has lately been gaming ground. Of course the notion of truth old naturalist slogan, b u t all it meant in that context was to 
promote the kind of fiction that represented the texture of average, 
daily plebeian existence, a nd insofar as naturalism contained any 
idea of truth or rea lity, i t was that life is grimy and frustrated anf * 

full Of SOCial injustice. This was Simp ly a literary mrtvpmpnt riHing 

t he tail of a social movement . 

The more recent turn toward the concept of truth in art is 
something else; it is actually a turn- against the idea of alienation, 
dissidence, and rebellion. For it ignores the question of values and 
tends to minimize the attitudes of commitment to new forces 
and rebellion against old ones that lie behind fresh creative move- 
ments and the audiences that support them. It seems meaningless 
to insist that a work of art conveys some lasting human truth: 
what is the "universal" truth in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a 
Young Man or Picasso's Three Musicians or one of Schoenberg's 
compositions? (Incidentally, the word "truth" is often only a syno- 
nym for verisimilitude or for insight into human behavior.) Aside 
from the mastery of the medium, we have, in modern art at least, 
not a permanent truth but a different accent or points of view that 
at best are true only for a small number of people and perhaps 

Introduction: Art and Neurosis xxiii 

only for a limited span. In our time many innovations have been 
carried by an avant garde concerned not with the truth but with 
some new , irrevgient, o ften shocking stand against prevailing 
moods and opinion s. And perhaps the decline of the avant garde 
has something to do with the high regard these days, not only for 
the notion of truth , but also for that of n ormality a nd respecta- 
bility in the arts. 

Just as other periods sometimes regarded the imagination as a 
wild, demonic force we now like to think of it as quite tame and 
orderly; and we tend to associate abnormality with literary pos- 
tures and false ideas. But let us not be fooled into thinking these 
views are objective or that they help clarify the relations between 
art, truth, and morality. They are merely symptoms of the times; 
and their literary meaning lies mainly in the fact that they serve 
to promote one creative strain rather than another. Thus in recent 
years there has been a growing tendency to tear down the more 
obviously neurotic and alienated writers, the extremists, like Kafka, 
Proust, Joyce, even Dostoevsky, and to elevate such figures as 
Dickens, George Eliot, and Trollope who seemingly stand for a 
more orderly and "wholesome" kind of experienceJ No doubt the 
tension between these two traditions has played a large part in 
the literary life of the past century, and we have tended to asso- 
ciate greater abnormality with those whom Van Wyck Brooks 
once called "coterie" writers, largely as a symbol of a more radical 
break with existing norms. As Gide, who favored the wilder talents, 
put it: " There do trsist gpfmisf s ; Victor Hugo for example, sane 
and whole. Their perfect spiritual poise precludes the possibility 
of any fresh problem. Rousseau without the leaven of madness, 
would, I am sure, be no better than an undigested Cicero. . . . 
The individual who is abnormal refuses to submit to laws already 
established." At the same time, we should note that the cleavage 
is not absolute. Someone like Mann, for example, was torn be- 
tween the two traditions; and it is amusing to watch the efforts 
today to transform Whitman into a man of the main stream. 

If, however, we investigate the life and work of the individual 
writer, the distinction between the normal and the abnormal in 
literature turns out to be largely programmatic rather than scien- 
tific. Henry James or T. S. Eliot, for example, who are usually 


assumed to be on the side of order and classicism, may be just as 
neurotic — in their work as well as in their private lives — as Joyce 
or Kafka; and as for the question of truth, I see no way of 
deciding which one of them is closer to the "truth" in his writing. 
The national and personal ambiguities in the work of James, which 
were bound up in some way with the ambiguities of his own life, 
are just as true as, say, Joyce's rejection, in the name of the un- 
compromising artist, of "my home, my fatherland, or my church," 
which was also tied up with some neurotic need to dissociate him- 
self from the conventional world. 

The opposition between "truth" and "neurosis" is actually a 
clash of two myths, the myth of the artist as philosopher and 
moralist and the myth of the messianic madman. It is the tradi- 
tional split, celebrated by Nietzsche, between the Apollonian and 
Dionysian view of art: between Apollo, the god of light, poetry, 
and prophecy, who stood for self-control, tranquillity, and radi- 
ance, and Dionysius, who represented frenzy, intoxication, and 
mystery, and brought art to the edge of barbarism and pathology. 
In our time, however, the distinction between the two is slowly 
disappearing, and — who knows? — maybe some day the neurotic 
artist will become a pillar of society. 

William Phillips 

1 Most of the examples I am using here are drawn from literature, because 
the formal content of painting and music has a much more complex and 
less obvious connection with psychological motives, and these media require 
special analysis. I do believe, however, that all of the arts, and creative 
thinking as well, have the same basic relation to neurosis. 

2 I have been using mainly the more common and less extreme term 
"neurotic," but much of what I have been saying could apply to psychosis 
or psychotic tendencies. 

3 Despite Eliot's own note on the importance of Tiresias in the scheme of 
The Waste Land, most commentators have not given him more weight than 
any other element in the poem, perhaps because their methods precluded a 
psychological approach. 

Part One 

Sigmund Freud 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 

Four facets may be distinguished in the rich 
personality of Dostoevsky: the creative artist, the neurotic, the 
moralist, and the sinner. How is one to find one's way in this 
bewildering complexity? 

The creative artist is the least doubtful; Dostoevsky 's place is not 
far behind Shakespeare. The Brothers Karamazov is the most mag- 
nificent novel ever written; the episode of the Grand Inquisitor, 
one of the peaks in the literature of the world, can hardly be over- 
praised. Unfortunately, before the problem of the creative artist, 
analysis must lay down its arms. 

The moralist in Dostoevsky is the most readily assailable. If we 
try to rank him high as a moralist on the plea that only a man who 
has gone through the depths of sin can reach the highest heights of 
morality, we are neglecting one consideration. A moral man is one 
who reacts to the temptation he feels in his heart without yielding 
to it. The man who alternately sins, and in his remorse makes high 
moral demands, lays himself open to the reproach that he has made 
things too easy for himself. He has not achieved the most important 
thing in morality, renunciation, for the moral conduct of life is a 



practical human interest. He reminds one of the barbarians of the 
great migrations, who murder and do penance therefor, where 
penitence becomes a technique to enable murder to be done. Ivan 
the Terrible behaved in exactly this way — in fact, this compromise 
with morality is a characteristic Russian trait. Nor was the ultimate 
result of Dostoevsky's moral struggles anything very glorious. After 
the most violent battles to reconcile the impulsive claims of the 
individual with the demands of the community, he ended up, retro- 
grade fashion, with submission both to the temporal and the spir- 
itual authorities, with veneration for the Tsar and the God of the 
Christians, and a narrow Russian nationalism, a position which 
lesser minds have reached with less effort. This is the weak point 
of the great personality. Dostoevsky threw away the chance of 
becoming a teacher and liberator of humanity; instead, he ap- 
pointed himself its gaoler. The future of civilization will have little 
to thank him for. It is probable that he was condemned to such 
frustration by his neurosis. The greatness of his intellect and the 
strength of his love for humanity should have opened to him an- 
other, apostolic, way of life. 

To treat Dostoevsky as a sinner and a criminal rouses violent 
resistance which need not be based on the philistine assessment of 
the criminal. The real motive soon becomes apparent: two traits 
are important in the criminal, boundless egoism and a strong de- 
structive tendency, both in conjunction; and the conditions for 
their expression is the absence of love, the lack of an affective 
valuation of (human) objects. One immediately recalls the con- 
trast presented by Dostoevsky, his great need of love and his 
enormous capacity for love, which expressed itself in manifesta- 
tions of superhuman goodness, and enabled him to love and help 
where he was justified in hatred and revenge — for example, in his 
relations with his first wife and her lover. That being so, we have 
to ask whence comes the temptation to reckon Dostoevsky among 
the criminals. The answer is that it comes from his choice of ma- 
terial, which singles out from all others violent, murderous, and 
egoistic characters, which points to the existence of similar tend- 
encies in his own soul, and also from certain facts in his life, like 
his passion for gambling, and perhaps the sexual abuse of a young 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 5 

girl (A Confession 1 ). The contradiction is resolved by the per- 
ception that Dostoevsky's very strong destructive impulse, which 
might easily have made him a criminal, was in his life directed 
mainly against his own person (inward instead of outward), and 
thus found expression in masochism and the sense of guilt. His 
personality, moreover, contains sadistic characteristics in plenty, 
which are expressed in his irritability, his love of tormenting, and 
his intolerance even toward persons he loved, and which appear 
also in the way in which, as an author, he treats his readers. That 
is, in littie things he was a sadist to others, in bigger things a 
sadist to himself, that is, a masochist, who is the mildest, kindliest, 
most helpful human being possible. 

We have explored three factors in Dostoevsky's complex per- 
sonality, one quantitative and two qualitative: his extraordinary 
degree of affectivity, the perverse impulsive structure which in- 
evitably marked him out as a sado-masochist or a criminal, and 
his unanalyzable artistic endowment. This combination might very 
well exist without neurosis; in fact, complete masochists are never 
neurotic. But, according to the balance of forces between the im- 
pulse claims and the inhibitions opposing them (plus the available 
methods of sublimation), Dostoevsky would still have to be clas- 
sified as a so-called "impulsive character." But the position is 
obscured by the presence of the neurosis, which as I have already 
said, is not in the circumstances indispensable, but which comes 
into being all the more readily, the richer the complexity which 
has to be controlled by the ego. For the neurosis is only a sign 
that the ego has not succeeded in making a synthesis, that it has 
forfeited its harmony in making the attempt. 

How then does the neurosis in the strict sense show itself? Dos- 
toevsky called himself an epileptic and was accepted as such by 
other people, on the strength of his serious attacks, which were 
accompanied by loss of consciousness, muscular convulsions, and 
subsequent depression. Now it is highly probable that this so-called 
epilepsy was only a symptom of his neurosis, and must, accord- 
ingly, be classified as hystero-epilepsy, that is, as serious hysteria. 
We cannot be completely certain on this point for two reasons, 
first, because the medical data on Dostoevsky's "epilepsy" are de- 


fective and untrustworthy, and secondly, because our understand- 
ing of morbid conditions combined with epileptiform attacks is 

To take the second point first. It is unnecessary to reproduce 
here the entire pathology of epilepsy; it would serve no useful 
purpose. But this may be said. The old morbus sacer is still in 
evidence as an ostensible clinical entity, the mysterious disease 
with its incalculable, apparently unprovoked convulsive seizures, 
its changing of the character into irritability and aggressiveness, 
and the progressive decline of all the mental faculties. But in the 
last resort this picture flickers and becomes blurred. The seizures, 
the onset of which is savage, accompanied by biting of the tongue 
and incontinence of urine, working up to the dangerous status epi- 
lepticus, may, however, be reduced to brief periods of absence, 
mere transient loss of consciousness, and may be replaced by short 
periods in which the patient, under the control of the unconscious, 
does something foreign to his character. Although otherwise con- 
ditioned by purely physical causes in a way we do not understand, 
the first appearance of the attacks may be due to some purely 
psychical influence (fright), or, further, they may react to psychic 
stimuli. However characteristic intellectual impairment may be of 
the overwhelming majority of cases, at least one case is known in 
which the affliction did not interfere with the functioning of the 
highest intellectual faculties (Helmholtz). (Other cases of which 
the same fact is alleged are either uncertain or open to the same 
objections as that of Dostoevsky himself.) Patients who are vic- 
tims of epilepsy may give an impression of dullness and arrested 
development, just as the disease is frequently accompanied by the 
most palpable idiocy and the most serious mental defects, even 
although these are not a necessary element of the clinical picture. 
These seizures, however, with all their variations, also occur in 
persons who show complete mental development, and who, previ- 
ous to their onset, possess an excessive, generally imperfectly con- 
trolled affectivity. It is no wonder in these circumstances that it 
has been found impossible to determine a single clinical entity, 
"epilepsy." The similarity of the external symptoms seems to de- 
mand a functional conception, as if the mechanism of the abnormal 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 7 

impulsive discharge were organically prepared in advance, to be 
called upon in quite different conditions, both during disturbances 
of the cerebral activity due to serious histolytic and toxic affec- 
tions, and also in case of inadequate control of the psychic econ- 
omy, the action of the energy working in the soul in a crisis. But 
behind the division we glimpse the identity of the fundamental 
mechanism of the impulsive outlet. The same thing must to some 
extent apply to sexual processes: the earliest doctors called the 
coitus a little epilepsy, that is, they recognized in the sexual act 
a mitigation and adaptation of the epileptic irritation outlet. 

The "epileptic reaction," as this common element may be called, 
without doubt also places itself at the disposal of the neurosis, the 
essence of which is to get rid, by somatic means, of masses of 
stimuli which it cannot deal with psychically. The epileptic seizure 
is thus a symptom of hysteria; and is adapted and modified by it, 
as is also done by the normal sexual discharge. It is, therefore, 
quite right to distinguish between organic and "affective" epilepsy. 
The practical significance of this is that the person who suffers 
from the one kind is mentally disordered, and the person who 
suffers from the other, a neurotic. In the first case, the psychic life 
is subject to an alien disturbance from without; in the second, the 
disturbance is an expression of the psychic life itself. 

It is extremely probable that Dostoevsky's epilepsy was of the 
second kind. This cannot, strictly speaking, be proved; to do that 
one would have to be able to fix the first appearance of the epi- 
lepsy and the subsequent fluctuations of the attacks in the con- 
tinuity of his psychic life, and for that we know too little. The 
descriptions of the seizures themselves teach us nothing, our in- 
formation about the relations between the seizures and Dostoev- 
sky's experiences are defective and often inconsistent. The most 
probable assumption is that the attacks go back to his childhood, 
that the symptoms were mild to start with, and did not assume 
epileptic form until after the terrible experience of his eighteenth 
year, the murder of his father. 2 It would be very convenient if it 
could be established that the attacks ceased entirely during his 
exile in Siberia, but other accounts are opposed to this. 3 

The unmistakable connection between the murder of the father 


in The Brothers Karamazov and the fate of Dostoevsky's father 
has struck more than one of his biographers, and has caused them 
to refer to a "certain modern psychological school." A psycho- 
analytical consideration — for it is psychoanalysis that is meant — 
is tempted to see in this event the most serious trauma, and in 
Dostoevsky's reaction to it, the crucial point of his neurosis. 

But if I undertake to substantiate this idea by means of psycho- 
analysis, I expose myself to the danger of being unintelligible to all 
those readers who are unfamiliar with the language and teaching of 

We have one certain starting point. We know the meaning of 
the first attacks from which Dostoevsky suffered in his early youth, 
long before the incidence of the "epilepsy." These attacks had a 
death significance: they were brought on by the fear of death and 
consisted of a lethargic somnolent condition. The disease first came 
upon him as a boy in the form of a sudden groundless melancholy, 
"a feeling," as he later told his friend Soloviev, "that I was going 
to die on the spot, and this was actually followed by a state 
exactly similar to real death. . . ." His brother Andrei tells us that 
in his childhood Fedor used to leave little notes about before he 
went to sleep; he was afraid that he would fall into a deathlike 
sleep during the night and begged that his burial should be post- 
poned for five days. 4 

We know the meaning and intention of such death seizures. 
They signify identification with a dead person, either one who is 
really dead, or one still alive whom one wishes dead. The latter 
case is the more important. The attack has then the value of a pun- 
ishment. You have wished another person's death, you become that 
person and are yourself dead. Psychoanalytic doctrine here makes 
the assertion that this other person for a boy is usually the father; 
the hysterical attack is thus a punishment for having wished for 
the death of a hated father. 

Parricide is, according to a well-known conception, the chief and 
primitive crime of humanity as well as of the individual. 5 It is in 
any case the main source of the sense of guilt; we do not know if it 
is the only one. Researches have not yet established the psychic 
origin of guilt and the need for expiation. But it is not necessary 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 9 

for it to be the only one. The psychological position is compli- 
cated and requires explanation. The relation of the boy to the 
father is, as we say, an "ambivalent" one (that is, composed of 
conflicting feelings of tenderness and hostility). In addition to the 
hate which wants to remove the father as a rival, a measure of 
tenderness for him also exists as a rule. Both attitudes of mind 
combine to produce identification with the father: the boy wants 
to be in his father's place because he admires him and wants to be 
like him, and also because he wishes to put him out of his way. 
This evolution now comes up against a serious obstacle.. At a cer- 
tain moment the child comes to understand that the attempt to 
remove the father as a rival would be punished by the father with 
castration. From fear of castration, that is, in the interests of pre- 
serving his virility, arises also a wish to possess his mother and 
to remove the father. So far as this wish remains in the uncon- 
scious, it forms the basis of the sense of guilt. We believe that we 
are here describing normal processes. We have, it is true, to make 
an important amplification in the normal fate of the so-called 
Oedipus complex. 

A further complication arises when the constitutional factor we 
call bisexuality is more strongly developed in the child. Then, under 
the influence of the threat to virility by castration, the tendency is 
strengthened to deflect in the direction of effeminacy, to put oneself 
in the place of the mother and take over her part as the object of 
the father's love. Only the fear of castration makes this also im- 
possible. The child understands that he must suffer castration if he 
wants to be loved by the father as a woman. Thus, both impulses, 
hatred for the father and being in love with the father, become 
repressed. There is a certain psychological difference in the fact 
that the hatred of the father is abandoned in consequence of the 
fear of an external danger (castration), while the amorous feeling 
toward the father is treated as an inward impulse danger, although 
fundamentally it goes back to the above-mentioned external danger. 

What makes hatred for the father untenable is fear of the father: 
castration is terrible, both as a punishment and as the price of love. 
Of the two factors which repress the hatred of the father, the first, 
the direct dread of punishment and castration, may be called the 


normal one, the pathogeneous reinforcement seems to come only 
with the second factor, the fear of the feminine attitude. Thus a 
strong bisexual predisposition becomes one of the conditions or 
confirmations of the neurosis. Such a predisposition must certainly 
be assumed in Dostoevsky and shows itself in a possible form 
(latent homosexuality) in the important part played by male friend- 
ships in his life, in his extraordinarily gentle attitude to rivals in 
love, and in his remarkable understanding of situations which are 
explainable only through repressed homosexuality, as many exam- 
ples from his novels show. 

I regret, although I cannot alter the facts, that these ideas about 
these attitudes of hate for and love of the father and their trans- 
formation under the influence of the threat of castration, will ap- 
pear unsavory and incredible to readers unfamiliar with psycho- 
analysis. I should expect that it would be the castration complex 
that would arouse the most general repugnance. I can only assert 
that psychoanalytic experience has put these relations beyond the 
reach of doubt, and has taught us to recognize in them the key to 
every neurosis. This key we must then apply to our author's "epi- 
lepsy." So strange to our consciousness are the things by which 
our unconscious psychic life is controlled! The consequences of the 
repression of the hatred of the father in the Oedipus complex are 
not exhausted by the foregoing observations. 

A new factor is that the identification with the father ultimately 
compels for itself a permanent place in the ego. It is adopted into 
the ego, but it there appoints itself a special instance for the rest 
of the content of the ego. We call it the superego, and ascribe 
to it, the inheritor of the parental influence, the most important 

If the father was hard, violent, and cruel, the superego takes 
these characteristics from him, and in its relation to the ego, the 
passivity which was supposed to have been repressed re-establishes 
itself. The superego has become sadistic, the ego becomes mas- 
ochistic, that is to say, fundamentally passive like a woman. The 
ego has a great craving for punishment, which is partly provided 
by fate and partly finds satisfaction in ill-treatment by the super- 
ego (consciousness of guilt). Every punishment is at bottom cas- 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 1 1 

tration, and, as such, a fulfillment of the old passive attitude to 
the father. Even fate is ultimately only a later father projection. 
The normal processes in the formation of the conscience must 
be similar to the abnormal ones described here. We have not yet 
succeeded in fixing their boundaries. It will be noted that ultimately 
the largest share is ascribed to the passive component, the repressed 
femininity. Moreover, as an accidental factor, it is of importance 
whether the father, who is feared in any case, was in reality espe- 
cially violent. This is true in Dostoevsky's case, and we shall trace 
back both his extraordinary sense of guilt and masochistic conduct 
to a very strong feminine component. Thus the formula for Dos- 
toevsky is as follows: a person of particularly strong bisexual pre- 
disposition, who can defend himself with special intensity against 
dependence on an especially hard father. The character of bisexual- 
ity we add to the earlier-mentioned components of his nature. The 
youthful symptom of the deathlike seizures is thus explained as a 
father identification of the ego, admitted by the superego as a form 
of punishment. You wished to kill your father in order to be your 
father. Now you are the father, but the dead father. The ordinary 
mechanism of hysterical symptoms. And further: Now your father 
kills you. For the ego the death symptom is a phantasy satisfaction 
of the male wish, and, at the same time, a masochistic satisfaction; 
for the superego, it is a punishment satisfaction, that is, a sadistic 
satisfaction. Both of them, the ego and the superego, carry on the 
role of the father. To sum up, the relation between the person and 
the father object, by retaining its content, is transformed into a 
relation between the ego and the superego, a new setting on a fresh 
stage. Such infantile reactions from the Oedipus complex may dis- 
appear if reality gives them no further nourishment. But the charac- 
ter of the father remains the same, or rather, it deteriorates with 
the years, and so Dostoevsky's hatred for the father, his wish for 
the death of this wicked father, is maintained. Now it is dangerous 
if reality fulfills such repressed wishes. Phantasy has become real- 
ity, all defensive measures are reinforced. Dostoevsky's seizures 
now assume an epileptic character; they still of course signify the 
father identification as a means of punishment, but they have be- 
come terrible, like the frightful death of the father itself. What 


further content they have absorbed, particularly sexual content, 
escapes conjecture. 

One thing is noteworthy. In the aura of the epileptic attack, one 
moment of supreme happiness is felt, which may very well have 
been the fixation of the triumph and the liberation felt at hearing 
the news of the death, to be followed immediately by an all the 
more cruel punishment. We have divined just such a sequence of 
triumph and mourning, festive joy and mourning, in the brothers of 
the primal horde who murdered their father, and we find it re- 
peated in the ceremony of the funeral feast. If it had happened 
that Dostoevsky had been free from his seizures in Siberia, this 
would only substantiate the view that his seizures were his punish- 
ment. He did not need them any longer, when he had been punished 
in another way. But this cannot be proved. Rather does the neces- 
sity of punishment felt by Dostoevsky's psychic economy explain 
the fact that he lived through these years of misery and humiliation 
without breaking down. Dostoevsky's sentence as a political of- 
fender was unjust; he must have been aware of this, but he accepted 
this undeserved punishment at the hands of the Tsar, the Little 
Father, as a substitute for the punishment he deserved for his sin 
against his real father. Instead of punishing himself, he let himself 
be punished by his father's deputy. We glimpse here a proof of the 
psychological justification of penalties imposed by society. It is a 
fact that large groups of criminals long for punishment. Their 
superego demands it, thus saving itself from inflicting the punish- 

Everyone who is familiar with the complicated transformation 
of meaning undergone by hysterical symptoms will understand that 
no further attempt will be made here, beyond this beginning, to 
fathom the meaning of Dostoevsky's attacks. 6 It is enough that we 
may assume that the original meaning remains unchanged behind 
all later overlayings. It may be said that Dostoevsky never got free 
from the remorse due to his desire to murder his father. It also de- 
termined his attitude to the two other domains in which the father 
relation is the decisive factor, the authority of the State and reli- 
gion. In the first he ended up with complete submission to the Tsar, 
the Little Father, who in reality had once played with him the 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 13 

comedy of murder which his attacks so often preluded for him. 
Here penitence gained the upper hand. In the religious sphere he 
retained more freedom: according to apparently reliable reports, 
up to the last instant of his life, he wavered between faith and 
atheism. His great intellect made it impossible for him to overlook 
a single one of the intellectual difficulties to which faith leads. By 
an individual repetition of historical evolution, he hoped to find a 
way out and a redemption from guilt in the Christ ideal, to use his 
very sufferings as a claim to a Christ role. That he did not entirely 
succeed in this and become a reactionary was due to the fact that 
the universal human filial guilt, on which religious feeling is built, 
had in him attained to a superindividual strength, and remained 
insuperable even to his great mind. Here we are laying ourselves 
open to the objection that we have abandoned the impartiality of 
analysis, and are subjecting Dostoevsky to values which are justifi- 
able only from the partial standpoint of a definite philosophy. A 
conservative would take the side of the Grand Inquisitor, and judge 
Dostoevsky differently. The objection is just; one can only say in 
extenuation that Dostoevsky's decision appears to have been deter- 
mined by an intellectual inhibition due to his neurosis. 

It can scarcely be mere coincidence that three of the master- 
pieces of the literature of all time, the Oedipus Rex of Sophocles, 
Shakespeare's Hamlet, and Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, 
should all deal with the same subject, a father's murder. In all 
three, too, the motive for the deed, sexual rivalry for the woman, is 
laid bare. The most straightforward is certainly the representation 
in the drama built up on the Greek legend. In it the hero himself 
commits the crime. But poetic treatment is impossible without 
softening and disguise. The naked confession of a desire to murder 
a father, as we arrive at it in analysis, seems intolerable to people 
without analytical training. The Greek drama, while retaining the 
crime, introduces the indispensable toning down in a masterly fash- 
ion by projecting the motive of the hero into the real as a compul- 
sion of destiny external to himself. The hero commits the fatal deed 
unintentionally and apparently uninfluenced by the woman; the 
connection is, however, preserved by making the winning of the 


Queen-mother dependent on a repetition of the deed on the Sphinx, 
the monster which symbolizes the father. After the guilt is revealed 
to consciousness, the hero makes no attempt to exculpate himself 
by appealing to the expedient of the compulsion of destiny. The 
guilt is recognized and punished as a conscious crime, which is 
bound to appear unjust, but which psychologically is perfectly 
right. The presentation in the English play is more indirect: there 
the hero does not commit the crime himself; it is committed by 
another, for whom it is not parricide. The revolting motive of 
sexual rivalry for the woman does not, therefore, need to be dis- 
guised. Also, we see the Oedipus complex of the hero, as it were, 
in a reflected light, by learning the effect on him of the mother's 
crime. He has to avenge the crime, but proves in a very remarkable 
way incapable of doing so. We know that it is his remorse that 
cripples him; in a way quite consistent with neurotic processes, the 
remorse is displaced upon the perception of his inadequacy for 
fulfilling his task. There are signs that the hero feels this guilt as 
a superindividual one. He despises others no less than himself: 
"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?" 
The Russian novel goes a step farther in this direction. Here 
also the murder is committed by another, but that other is one who 
stands to the murdered man in the same filial relation as the hero, 
Dmitri, another, in whom the motive of sexual rivalry is openly 
admitted, and to whom Dostoevsky has most remarkably attrib- 
uted his own disease, alleged epilepsy, as if he were trying to 
confess that the epileptic, the neurotic, in him was a parricide. 
Then follows in the speech for the defense the famous mockery 
of psychology, which is a double-edged weapon. A magnificent 
disguise, which has only to be turned round to discover the deepest 
meaning of Dostoevsky's conception. It is not psychology which 
deserves mockery, but the procedure of judicial examination. It is 
a matter of indifference who actually committed the crime; psy- 
chology is interested only in discovering who desired it, and who 
welcomed it when it was done, and for that reason, all the brothers 
are equally guilty, even the sharply contrasted figure of Aliosha, 
the impulsive sensual man, the skeptical cynic and the epileptic 
criminal. In The Brothers Karamazov we find one very significant 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 15 

scene. The Elder in his conversation with Dmitri has discovered 
that Dmitri bears in himself a readiness to murder his father, and 
throws himself at his feet. It is impossible that this is meant as an 
expression of admiration; it must signify that the holy man is re- 
jecting the temptation to despise or shrink from the murderer, and, 
therefore, humiliates himself before him. Dostoevsky 's sympathy 
for the criminal is in fact boundless: it goes far beyond the pity 
which the unhappy wretch can claim, and reminds us of the 
"sacred awe" with which epileptics and lunatics were treated in 
olden days. The criminal is to him almost a Redeemer, who has 
taken on himself the guilt which others would otherwise have 
had to bear. One need not now commit murder, after he has com- 
mitted murder, but one must be grateful to him, because, without 
him, one would oneself have to have been a murderer. That is not 
pure kindliness and sympathy; it is identification on the basis of a 
similar murderous impulse, in reality a slightly displaced narcis- 
sism. This is not to dispute the ethical value of this kindliness. Per- 
haps the mechanism of kindly sympathy in other men is the same, 
only it is particularly easy to discern in the extreme case of the 
novelist, who was ridden by the sense of guilt. There is no doubt 
that this identifying sympathy was a decisive factor in determining 
Dostoevsky's choice of material. He dealt first with the common 
criminal — the criminal from egoism — the political and the reli- 
gious criminal, and not until the end of his life did he come back 
to the primal criminal, the parricide, and in him made his poetical 

The publication of Dostoevsky's posthumous papers and of the 
diaries of his wife has thrown a bright light on one episode in his 
life, namely the period in Germany when he was obsessed with the 
gambling mania (Dostojewski am Roulette), which it is impossible 
to regard otherwise than as an unmistakable fit of pathological pas- 
sion. There was no lack of ways of rationalizing this remarkable 
and unworthy behavior. As often happens with neurotics, the sense 
of guilt had taken tangible shape in the form of a burden of debt, 
and Dostoevsky was able to take refuge behind the pretext that he 
was trying by his winnings at the tables to make it possible for him 
to return to Russia without being arrested by his creditors. But that 


was only a pretext; Dostoevsky was acute enough to recognize this 
and honest enough to confess it. He knew that the chief thing was 
the gambling in itself, le jeu pour le jeu. 7 All the details of his im- 
pulsively irrational conduct show this, and something more as well. 
He never rested until he had lost everything. Gambling was for him 
also a method of self-punishment. He had time and again given his 
young wife his promise or his word of honor not to play again, 
or not to play again on a particular day, and, according to her, he 
almost always broke it. When his losses had reduced himself and 
her to the direst need, he derived a second pathological satisfac- 
tion from that. He could abuse and humiliate himself to her, invite 
her to despise him and to regret that she had married an old sin- 
ner; and when he had unburdened his conscience in this way, the 
gambling was resumed next day. The young wife accustomed her- 
self to this cycle, because she had noticed that the one thing which 
offered any real hope of escape, namely his literary activity, was 
never more successful than when they had lost everything and 
pawned their last possessions. Naturally she did not understand the 
connection. When his sense of guilt was satisfied by the punish- 
ments he had imposed on himself, the inhibitions to work ceased 
to operate, and he allowed himself to take a few steps on the way 
to success. 8 

What part of long-buried childhood compels its repetition in the 
gambler's compulsion may without difficulty be divined from a 
story by a young novelist. Stefan Zweig, who, by the way, has 
himself devoted a study to Dostoevsky (Drei Meister), in a collec- 
tion of three long short stories, Die Verwirrung der Gefuhle {The 
Confusion of the Emotions) , has a story which he calls Vierundz- 
wangziz Stunden aus dem Leben einer Frau (Four-and-Twenty 
Hours in a Woman's Life). This little masterpiece ostensibly pur- 
ports only to show what an irresponsible creature woman is, and 
to what excesses, surprising even to herself, an unexpected experi- 
ence may drive her. But the story tells far more than this: when it 
is subjected to an analytical interpretation it represents without 
such apologetic tendencies something quite different, something 
universally human or rather masculine. And such an interpretation 
is so obvious that it cannot be denied. It is characteristic of the 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 17 

nature of artistic creation that the author, who is a personal friend, 
was able to assure me that the interpretation given by me was com- 
pletely alien both to his mind and his intention, although many 
details were woven into the narrative which seemed expressly de- 
signed to indicate the secret clue. In the story a distinguished 
elderly lady tells the author of an experience she had had twenty 
years before. She had been left a widow when still young, and was 
the mother of two sons, who no longer needed her. Expecting noth- 
ing further from life, at the age of forty-two, on one of her aimless 
journeyings, she visited the Casino at Monte Carlo, where, among 
all the remarkable sights of the place, she was soon fascinated by 
two hands, which seemed to betray all the feelings of the unlucky 
gambler with terrifying sincerity and intensity. These hands be- 
longed to a handsome young man — the author unintentionally makes 
him the same age as the eldest son of the narrator — who, after 
having lost everything, left the room in the depths of despair, evi- 
dently with the intention of ending his hopeless life in the gardens. 
An inexplicable feeling of sympathy compels her to follow him and 
make every effort to save him. He takes her for one of the importu- 
nate women so common there, and tries to shake her off; but she 
stays with him and finds herself obliged in the most natural way 
possible to share his room at the hotel, and finally his bed. After 
this improvised night of love, she exacts from the young man, now 
apparently calmed down, a promise that he will never play again, 
provides him with money for his journey home and undertakes to 
meet him at the station before the departure of the train. Then she 
begins to feel a great tenderness for him, wants to sacrifice every- 
thing to keep him, and makes up her mind to go with him instead 
of saying good-by. Various adverse circumstances make her miss 
the train, and in her longing for the lost one, she again visits the 
gaming rooms, and there, to her horror, sees once more the hands 
which had first excited her sympathy: the faithless boy had gone 
back to his gambling. She reminds him of his promise, but, ob- 
sessed by his passion, he calls her a spoilsport, tells her to get out, 
and flings down the money with which she had tried to save him. 
She hurries away deeply mortified, and learns later that she has not 
succeeded in rescuing him from suicide. 


This brilliantly told, perfectly motivated story indeed exists in 
its own right, and is certain of deeply affecting all readers. But 
psychoanalysis shows us that its invention is based on the extinction 
of a wish phantasy belonging to the period of puberty, which many 
people consciously remember. The phantasy embodies a wish that 
the mother should herself initiate the boy into sexual life in order 
to save him from the dreaded evils of onanism. All the "release" 
poetic inventions which we find so frequently, have the same origin. 
The vice of onanism is replaced by the passion for gambling; the 
emphasis laid on the passionate activity of the hands betrays this 
derivation. The gambling mama is actually an equivalent of the 
old onanism compulsion; "playing" is the very word used in the 
nursery for the activity of the hands in masturbation. The irresisti- 
bility of the temptation, the solemn, never kept, resolutions never 
to do it, the soothing pleasure, and the bad conscience which tells 
him that he is ruining himself (suicide), remain unaltered in the 
substitution. Zweig's story is told from the point of view of the 
mother, not of the son. The son may cajole himself by thinking: 
if my mother knew what dangers onanism may involve me in, she 
would certainly save me by permitting me to lavish my tenderness 
on her own body. The identification of the mother with the prosti- 
tute made by the young man in the story belongs to the same 
phantasy. It brings the unattainable within easy reach. The bad 
conscience which accompanies this phantasy entails the unhappy 
ending of the story. It is also interesting to note how the external 
circumstances employed by the author in the story try to conceal 
its analytic meaning. For it is extremely questionable whether the 
love life of woman is controlled by sudden and mysterious im- 
pulses. Analysis rather goes to show that there is adequate motiva- 
tion for the surprising behavior of a woman who has hitherto re- 
jected love. Faithful to the memory of her dead husband, she has 
armed herself against all similar claims, but — and here the phan- 
tasy of the son is right — she, as mother, has not escaped trans- 
ference of love to the son, of which she is entirely unconscious, 
and fate is able to capture her at this undefended spot. 

If the gambling habit, with its unsuccessful struggles to break 
oneself from it and its opportunities for self-punishment, is a repe- 

Dostoevsky and Parricide 19 

tition of the onanism compulsion, we shall not be surprised that it 
gained such a firm place in Dostoevsky's life. We find no case of 
serious neurosis in which the autoerotic satisfaction of immaturity 
and puberty does not play its part, and the relations between the 
effort to suppress it and the fear of the father are so well-known 
that they need only be mentioned. 9 

{Translated by D. F. Tait) 

1 See the discussion of this point in Der unbekannte Dostojewski, 1926. 
Stefan Zweig says: "He does not stop before the chambers of bourgeois 
morality, and no one can say exactly how far he transgressed the bounds of 
law in his own life, or how much of the criminal instincts of his heroes was 
realised in him" (Drei Meister, 1920). For the intimate relations between 
Dostoevsky's characters and his own experiences, see the arguments in the 
introductory section of Rene Fiilop-Miller's Dostojewski am Roulette, 1925, 
which relate to Nikolai Strakhov. 

2 See Rene Fiilop-Miller's article, Dostojewski's Heilige Krankheit, in 
Wissen und Leben, Nos. 19-20 (1924). Of special interest is the information 
that in the novelist's childhood, "something terrible, agonising and unforget- 
table" happened, to which the first signs of his disease may be traced (Suvo- 
rin in an article in the Novoe Vremia for 1881, quoted in the introduction to 
Dostojewski am Roulette, p. xlv). Further, Orest Miller in Dostojewski's 
autobiographische Schriften says: "There is, however, another special piece 
of evidence about Fedor Mikhailovich's illness, which relates to his earliest 
youth, and brings the illness into relation with a tragic event in the family 
life of his parents. But, although this piece of evidence was given to me 
orally by one who was a close friend of Dostoevsky, because I can nowhere 
find confirmation of it, I am unable to make up my mind to give an exact 
and detailed account of it" (p. 140). Biographers and scientific researchers 
cannot be grateful for this discretion. 

3 Most of the accounts, including Dostoevsky's own, maintain rather that 
the illness first assumed a definite epileptic character during the exile in 
Siberia. Unfortunately there is reason to distrust the autobiographical ac- 
counts of neurotics. Experience shows that their memories introduce falsifi- 
cations designed to break down an unpleasant causal connection. Neverthe- 
less, it appears certain that his time in a Siberian prison markedly altered 
Dostoevsky's morbid state. Cf. Dostojewski's Heilige Krankheit, p. 1186. 

4 Dostojewski am Roulette, Introduction, p. lx. 

5 See the author's Totem und Tabu. 

6 See Totem und Tabu. The best account of the meaning and content of 
his seizures was given by Dostoevsky himself, when he told his friend 
Strakhov that the irritability and depression which followed an epileptic 
seizure were due to the fact that he seemed to himself a criminal, and could 
not get rid of the feeling that he was guilty of an offense unknown to him, 


that he had committed a terrible evil deed, which oppressed him (Dosto- 
jewski's Heilige Krankheit, p. 1188). In these complaints, psychoanalysis 
sees a proof of recognition of the "psychic reality," and tries to bring a 
knowledge of the unknown offense to the surface of consciousness. 

7 "The main thing is the gambling itself," he wrote in one of his letters. 
"I swear that greed for money has nothing to do with it, although Heaven 
knows I am sorely in need of money." 

8 "He always remained at the gambling tables until he had lost everything 
and was completely ruined. It was only when the damage was complete that 
the demon at last retired from his soul and made way for the creative 
genius." {Dostojewski am Roulette, p. Ixxxvi.) 

9 Most of the views here expressed are also contained in the excellent 
book of Solan Neufeld, published in 1923, Dostojewski, Skizze zu seiner 

Selma Fraiberg 

] Kajka and the Dream 

For most of his life, it appears, Kafka lived on 
terms of dangerous intimacy with the world of the dream. He pos- 
sessed a kind of sensory knowledge of the dream and the dimen- 
sions of consciousness which could only be achieved by a man 
who had an extraordinary relationship to his own inner life. This 
knowledge did not come from a clinical study of his own states of 
consciousness and I feel certain that it did not come from psycho- 
analytic texts. Kafka was not an academic student of the mind. He 
was, however, a meticulous observer of his own mental activity. 

There is evidence that he experienced mental states in which 
dreamlike images and fantasies emerged, then were caught and 
held in consciousness; naked specimens of unconscious produc- 
tions. Often he preserved these things in his notebooks, recorded 
along with the texts of nocturnal dreams, obsessional thoughts, 
fragments of memories, and hundreds of other bits and pieces of 
the disordered contents of his inner world. Here and there in the 
Kafka stories a piece from this attic debris makes its ghostly re- 
appearance. In many instances a dream, a fantasy or a piece of 
imagery recorded in the notebooks becomes the starting point for 



a sketch or a story. There is evidence, then, that he not only made 
exhaustive investigations of his own mental processes, but also 
that he made use of his discoveries in his writing. 

Introspection for Kafka was not a reflective process but a dis- 
ease, the compulsion of his morbid guilt, which drew him deeper 
and deeper into psychic depths in hopeless pursuit of the crime and 
the judgment. It was an obsessional occupation which became a 
torment for him and slowly widened the gap between himself and 
the real world. In 1922 this estrangement reached a critical point 
and Kafka viewed his mental state with alarm. On January 16, he 
writes: "This past week I suffered something very like a breakdown 
. . . impossible to sleep, impossible to endure life, or, more exactly, 
the course of life. The clocks are not in unison; the inner one 
runs crazily on at a devilish or demoniac or in any case inhuman 
pace, the outer one limps along at its usual speed. What else can 
happen but that the worlds split apart, and they do split apart, 
or at least clash in a fearful manner. There are doubtless several 
reasons for the wild tempo of the inner process; the most obvious 
one is introspection, which will suffer no idea to sink tranquilly 
to rest but must pursue each one into consciousness, only itself 
to become an idea, in turn to be pursued by renewed introspec- 
tion." And later in the same entry: "The solitude that for the most 
part has been forced on me, in part voluntarily sought by me — 
but what was this if not compulsion too? — is now losing all its am- 
biguity and approaches its denouement. Where is it leading? The 
strongest likelihood is, that it may lead to madness . . ." Later that 
month the panic gives way to melancholy resignation. On January 
28, he writes ". . . f or I am now a citizen of this other world, whose 
relationship to the ordinary one is the relationship of the wilder- 
ness to cultivated land. . . ." And on the following day he writes: 
"... it is only that the attraction of the human world is so immense, 
in an instant it can make one forget everything. Yet the attraction 
of my world too is strong. ..." 

The mental crisis did not end as he feared in madness but in dis- 
ease. This was the year of the onset of Kafka's tuberculosis. He 
understood his illness, and wrote to Brod, "My head has made an 
appointment with my lungs behind my back." 

Kafka and the Dream 23 

Of the two worlds, Kafka's and "the human world," it was the 
first that he knew best. Kafka wrote about himself, his inner ex- 
perience, and the struggle with nameless tyrants, the lustful couples 
who copulate within the sight of the law, the endless tribunal, the 
comic-tragic bureaucrats and corrupt officials — all of these were 
not conceived as allegories for his time but were events of inner 
life. (His own comments and interpretations of his works repeat- 
edly bear this out.) If his writings achieve the effect of satire and 
broad social caricature it is because the dream is in itself a carica- 
ture of life; the dream is in one sense an allegory. Moreover, Kafka 
,knew this and understood it very well. In a conversation, Janouch 
says to Kafka: "The Metamorphosis is a terrible dream, a terrible 
conception." Kafka replies: "The dream reveals the reality, which 
conception lags behind. That is the horror of life — the terror of 
art " 

I think it is also a mistake to look upon his writings as "Freudian 
allegories" or to speak of Kafka's deliberate use of "Freudian sym- 
bols." If Kafka was acquainted with psychoanalytic ideas (and 
there is some evidence for this), he did not pluck his symbols from 
clinical texts like an amateur with a drugstore dream book. 

No formula for dream interpretation exists in psychoanalysis. 

A dream, a symbol, can be properly interpreted only through the 

Jpersonal associations of the dreamer. While Freud brought atten- 

t tion to a number of "universal" symbols, he repeatedly stressed 

Vthe multideterminants in symbol choice, and hence the futility of 

assigning a single meaning to a symbol. 

Moreover, we must admit that even those symbols which are, 
properly speaking, "universal" are not in themselves the material 
for creative work. Symbols are sterile things in themselves; it is 
only when the symbol is animated through personal experience, 
when it acquires dimensions of meaning and ambiguity, that it 
can evoke emotional reactions. 

Kafka may have profited from the psychoanalytic investigation 
of dreams and dream symbolism, but he wrote out of inner experi- 
ence. An investigation of Kafka symbolism will demonstrate re- 
peatedly how little he was influenced by the arbitrary dream sym- 
bol. It seems to me to be as unprofitable to try to understand Kafka 


and his writing in terms of "Freudian symbols" as it is to under- 
stand a dream apart from the dreamer's own associations. 

If Kafka knew the world of the dream better than the rest of us 
he was not indebted to Freud but to his p_ersonal suffering. He 
called himself, at last, "a citizen of this other worldT^He'was not 
like the rest of us, thejiocturnal visitors who are favored on return 
with a_niexdi^amnesia or dim^c^ttrHeJhad taken up his ghostly 
residence there^ and haT^ituatiojaJiad given his eyes a spljcTaTTJTncT 
of .lugh^vision^sa Jliat^the J^nK-^d^veTuToTThT~3ream, which~~ 
ordinary dreamers call uncertain ^nd in^istffiet r -wereTarigible' ancT 
real7c^pable-of-description in fine detail. Evenlfie-te x t s o f hi s-own 
dreams, recorded in his ho^te^ooksTafe^emarkable for the recall of 
detail and the visual preciseness. 

The danger in such intimacy with the dream world is that the 
connections to the other world may be lost, and this danger was 
real and known to Kafka. His writing was the bridge, the connec- 
tion between the two worlds, it was the strongest of the bonds 
[ which united him with the real world. And the writings themselves 
told the same story of the danger, or the failure, or the impossi- 
bility of human connections. 

He wrote his biography in his symbolism of lost connections — 
the intercepted letters, the interrupted coitus, the telephones with 
the connections to nowhere. There is the indescribable loneliness 
and sadness of the little train in "The Railroad of Kalda" which 
makes its way into the frozen interior of Russia and regularly 
comes to its end in the middle of the wilderness, never to reach its 
destination. It is a train without mission, bearing a tiny freight and 
a few passengers in the course of the year, running its course be- 
tween nowhere and nowhere. At the train stop the company's agent 
dwells in solitude in an abandoned wooden shed, in despair of life 
and afraid of death. The Kalda story, too, is unfinished. No man 
can write the end of his autobiography. 

These symbols of lost connections, like all powerful symbols 
(and unlike those symbols which are plucked cheaply from dream 
books), are highly stratified and rich in latent meaning. They speak 
of the failures in human connections and communication which are 
recurrent motifs in Kafka's writing and his life. The wretched rail- 

Kafka and the Dream 25 

road of Kalda, once conceived by its owners in a surge of capitalist 
daring and hope, has come to nothing, a toy train chugging its 
way through vast space to its absurd and melancholy end in the 
wastes. This is the parable of Kafka's failure in the eyes of his 
father. And the ridiculous railroad, this mockery of men's extrava- 
gant hopes and ambitions, is Kafka's symbol for the failure of his 
own ambitions, and for the failure of his lifelong struggle with an 
unconquerable opponent, here represented as the vastness of a 
wilderness which cannot be spanned by the tiny train, in real life 
by the figure of a giant, the father, before whom Kafka remained 
an insignificant dwarf as boy and grown man. It is the symbol for 
the unfinished work, the uncompleted writings. It is the comment 
on Kafka's religious views, the failure to reach anything "beyond." 
And it is the symbol of biological failure. The little train which is 
never to reach its destination speaks eloquently and touchingly of 
Kafka's sexual impotence. The little train comes to its end in the 
middle of the wilderness, a full day's journey from Kalda, dis- 
charges its few passengers, its small freight, and returns. And the 
ground of this tiny settlement was frozen solid, we are told. "I was 
too weak to conquer the soil," said the company's agent. "A stub- 
born soil that was frozen solid until spring and that even resisted 
the sharp edge of my new axe. Whatever seed one sowed in it 
was lost." 

It is a striking fact that Kafka, the "citizen of this other world," 
should have established his human fellowship in his writings 
through the fraternity of the dream. He had only the frailest con- 
nections with what he called "the human world" and his life was 
a tragedy of lost and broken communications with that world. Yet 
his literary genius was most pronounced in his ability to communi- 
cate elemental emotion and primal experience. It is a communica- 
tion which is direct and powerful and owes its effect to a profound 
insight; it is the creation through the device of the private dream 
of a world of collective memory where each man can know his 


It is probable that when the current enthusiasm for Kafka has 
run its course Kafka will emerge with less stature as a writer but 
with undiminished prestige as an innovator in the technique of the 
psychological novel. For Kafka has brought a thoroughly original 
and revolutionary approach to the problem of the representation of 
psychic dimensions in literature. 

We must consider that the discoveries of psychoanalysis have 
made demands upon the writer which are entirely unlike those of 
other systems of ideas. A theory of biology, of society, of politics 
or of history can be given suitable expression within the frame- 
work of a narrative without straining the conventional means of 
communication. But a scientific theory of psychic dimensions and 
the primary processes of thought and imagery make unique de- 
mands upon the writer's equipment and his technique when he 
attempts to represent these ideas in his work. 

Language, itself, as an instrument of the reasoning ego, seems 
opposed to working for unreason in the service of the unconscious. 
The higher order of thinking which is implicit in language is incom- 
patible with the archaic mental system which governs the primary 
thought processes. The dream, for example, doesn't "speak" a lan- 
guage. It can only represent words and ideas through pictures. The 
spoken word or phrase, if it comes into the dream at all, is torn 
from the context of waking life and played back like a dusty rec- 
ord. Similarly, the writer's conventional devices of narration op- 
pose the representation of unconscious thought processes. The 
storyteller gives order to his materials; the dreamer gives disorder 
to his. The story reveals, makes explicit, intends to communicate 
its meaning; the manifest dream conceals, disguises, has no inten- 
tion of communicating. 

It is understandable, then, that the writers who have attempted 
to bring this dimension of mind into the scope of their work have 
usually found it necessary to experiment upon the language itself 
and the techniques of narration. In one way or another these 
writers tried to re-create the world of the unconscious by borrowing 

Kafka and the Dream 27 

the method of unconscious thought processes, the so-called "pri- 
mary process." The dream's method of plastic representation, 
ellipsis, condensation and symbol formation provided models for 
a new writing. The writer's problem of narration of unconscious 
mental processes also found solutions in the model of the dream. 
The dream dispenses with logical connections. Its contents are 
brought together only because of their associative links and with- 
out regard for order or coherence. Its meaning can only be estab- 
lished through translation. The transposition of unconscious 
thought processes in writing led to various types of "stream of 
consciousness" writing which, like the dream, could be understood 
only through interpretation. 

Kafka did not trouble himself at all with the mechanical prob- 
lems of entering the dream world. He found an easy solution to 
the problem of the language barrier. He simply walked through it. 
His prose style which Mann described as "a conscientious, curi- 
ously explicit, objective, clear, and correct style" undergoes no 
distortions, employs no language tricks and is perfectly consistent 
and reasonable in the reporting of events, real or delusional. 

No one has succeeded with this device as Kafka has. No one 
else can evoke the world of the dream with such chilling authen- 
ticity. Kafka's so-called "dream technique" springs from a concep- 
tion of the dream as a work of art. Kafka explored the aesthetic 
properties of the dream. He understood the primary relationship 
between unconscious mental processes and the form and compo- 
sition of the dream. By taking the dream as his model in his own 
compositions he achieved the perfect formal conditions for the rep- 
resentation of unconscious experience. Now this, in itself, is not 
an innovation; experimental writers of this century have turned 
to this method of composition repeatedly in the attempt to evoke 
the qualities of the dream. But when Kafka unites the structural 
aspects of the dream with his narrative technique, his composi- 
tions achieve the most extraordinary effects of the dream itself. 
This is all the more impressive when we regard the seeming art- 
lessness, the unambitious character of his narrative technique. It is 
simply the narration of a dream by a dreamer. 


One evening I returned home to my room from the office some- 
what later than usual — an acquaintance had detained me below 
at the house entrance for a long time — opened the door (my 
thoughts were still engrossed by our conversation, which had con- 
sisted chiefly of gossip about people's social standing), hung my 
overcoat on the hook and was about to cross over to the wash- 
stand when I heard a strange, spasmodic breathing. I looked up 
and, on top of the stove that stood deep in the gloom of the 
corner, saw something alive. Yellowish glittering eyes stared at 
me; large round woman's breasts rested on the shelf of the stove, 
on either side beneath the unrecognizable face; the creature 
seemed to consist entirely of a mass of soft white flesh; a thick 
yellowish tail hung down beside the stove, its tip ceaselessly pass- 
ing back and forth over the cracks of the tiles. 

The first thing I did was to cross over with long strides and 
sunken head — nonsense! nonsense! I kept repeating like a 
prayer. . . . 

The effect of this passage, the immediate sense of the nightmare, 
is achieved not by its contents alone, not by the stove monster, 
but by the prose treatment. It is the conventional narration, the 
factual, ordinary rendering of this event which produces the effect 
of the uncanny. As Freud has shown, this is entirely in accord with 
the psychological mechanism in the experience of the uncanny by 
which unreal events are perceived as real, the inanimate is animated 
and the delusion or dream obtains conviction. 1 Kafka demonstrates 
by this technique that the quality of uncanniness which we attribute 
to the dream and the delusion is not a property of the dream itself 
or of unconscious experience; it belongs to the ego, the representa- 
tive of consciousness and reality and is produced when a repressed 
idea is given illusory confirmation by an event in consciousness 
with the effect of momentarily breaking off the ego's contact with 

Now since the uncanny is not a quality of the dream itself, but 
derives from an impairment of an ego faculty, that of reality test- 
ing, a narrative which attempts to simulate the experience of 
dreaming or to evoke the "uncanniness" of the dream must deceive 
the critical and judging faculties of the ego through a prose which 
apparently sustains logic and belief at the same time that it affirms 
the delusion. The ideal prose for this treatment is everyday speech, 

Kafka and the Dream 29 

a factual narration in simple declarative sentences. The narration 
of events and visions from a night world in the ordinary, accus- 
tomed prose of waking life produces exactly that sense of dissolv- 
ing reason which makes reality a dream and the dream a reality, 
in essence the quality of uncanniness. 

Let us consider whether the same effect could be achieved 
through an experiment upon the language itself and the mode of 
narration. Now a prose which attempts to evoke the experience of 
dreaming by borrowing the method of the dreamwork must break 
up the structure of speech in order to bring it into a primitive sys- 
tem of thought. Syntax has no place in primary mental processes, 
and such a narrative needs to free itself from the order and re- 
striction of language, yet cannot abandon it completely for func- 
tional reasons. Meaning will suffer through this treatment, of 
course, but this is a dimension of mind which is cut off from the 
higher mental faculties, has no reason of its own, no order or 
coherence, and for many purposes of the writer the obscurity and 
ambiguity of this liberated prose will strengthen the analogy to 
dreaming. Similarly, by abandoning the patterns of everyday 
speech, the writer can introduce phrasing and rhythms which recall 
the fluidity and merging forms of unconscious thought processes. 
Such a radical departure from the spoken language can include 
words, themselves. The dream can be taken as a model for bold 
invention and license in language. For, although it "speaks no lan- 
guage," it represents the word in visual forms and symbols which 
both mask and unmask the language of waking life and reveal the 
infinitely ramified structure of meaning. The writer who takes this 
license of the dream for himself can achieve dimensions of mean- 
ing and a richness of allusion unparalleled in everyday speech. It 
is unnecessary to add that these experiments upon the language 
demand such powerful gifts of imagination in a writer that they 
have only rarely produced important results. 

This writing which bends the language, changes its order, its 
accustomed phrasing and usage, can achieve many effects of its 
own in the representation of unconscious mental processes, but 
it cannot achieve the effect of the uncanny or cause the reader to 
experience the dreamlike narrative as a dream. We stand outside 


of the dream in reacting to this writing; certain sensory effects 
of the dream are induced in us, but we are not deluded. Our 
knowledge that this is unreal or that this is a dream is not even 
momentarily destroyed. This is because the distortions of lan- 
guage have already stamped the experience as unreal. It is analo- 
gous to a situation described by Freud in his essay on "The 
Uncanny." He demonstrates that the feeling which we describe 
as uncanny is always dependent in fiction or in life upon the 
appearance of unreal events as real, but when, as in fairy tales, 
the setting and the frankly animistic character of the events de- 
part from the world of reality from the start, the feeling of un- 
canniness cannot be obtained. In the fairy tale or any fictional 
form, which by its setting or form of presentation, states its unreal 
character, the reader willingly participates in the delusion. In pro- 
ducing the experience of the uncanny in fiction the writer must 
take care to exclude his reader's judgment and criticism and cause 
him to participate in the fictional delusion without a moment's 
reflection or the exercise of consciousness. 2 

The authentic dream quality which Kafka achieves owes a large 
part of its effect to narrative devices which temporarily dissolve 
the reader's sensory contact with reality and cause him to fall back 
upon archaic forms of thinking. Kafka erases the boundaries be- 
tween reality and the dream; his transition from one world to 
another is as imperceptible as the moment between waking and 
sleeping. In much of Kafka's writing there is this ghostly treading 
between two worlds, made all the more sinister by the insubstan- 
tial and muted forms of reality and the electrifying clarity of the 
delusion and the dream. The passage from the ordinary event of 
coming home from the office and hanging up a coat to the extraor- 
dinary vision of a monster occurs without an interval. In analogy 
with the dream the interval does not exist; it is not remarked upon 
for the same reason that no man knows the moment he falls asleep, 
loses this self for the other self in the dream, or leaves his bed to 
flee through hollow corridors. In re-creating through the narrative 
the psychic transition from waking to dreaming, Kafka brings the 
reader directly into the dream. He causes the reader to suspend 
reason and criticism, to submit to the delusion, through the simple 

Kafka and the Dream 31 

device of juxtaposing reality and the dream in agreement with 
the psychic experience of the emerging dream. 

The effect is strengthened when the narrative, as in the stove- 
monster sequence, proceeds to treat fantastic events as real in 
the same way that events of the dream are experienced as real 
by the dreamer. The narrator did not imagine that he saw a 
monster; he saw it; and the description of the monster in fine 
detail supports the delusional effect in much the same way that 
the eyewitnesses of flying saucers support their delusions through 
minute descriptions of the little men, their clothing, and the size 
and appearance of the craft. 

Kafka's use of metaphor must also be considered in a study of 
his "dream technique." In the dream a metaphor is represented in 
its literal aspect. In the metaphor, for example, it is "as if" Kafka 
were a species of vermin; in the story "Metamorphosis," as in a 
dream representation, he is a noxious bug. In many places in 
Kafka's diaries we can trace the evolution of a story or details 
of a story from a metaphor. In "The Letter to My Father," for 
example, Kafka has the father answer his reproaches in an imagi- 
nary speech in which the father says, "And there is the fight of 
the vermin, which not only bite, but at the same time suck the 
blood on which they live. . . ." In the diaries he speaks of the 
broken engagement with F.B. as "the tribunal in the hotel," and 
employs other metaphors to represent his engagement as "an 
arrest," himself as "a criminal." Later, in The Trial, we see the 
concrete representation of these metaphors (though I do not wish 
to imply that the meaning of the work is contained in these meta- 
phors alone). Similarly we can find the genesis for the story "The 
Burrow" in these remarks in his diary, October 6, 1915: "Various 
types of nervousness. I think noises can no longer disturb me, 
though to be sure I am not doing any work now. Of course, the 
deeper one digs one's pit, the quieter it becomes, the less fearful 
one becomes, the quieter it becomes." In "The Burrow" he rep- 
resents his illness, his fear of life, in a literal treatment of the 
metaphorical allusion. The small, frightened animal has dug deep 
into the ground, and with cunning and ingenuity he has created a 
labyrinth in which he is snug and safe and which assures him 


escape in case of danger. "But the most beautiful thing about my 
burrow is the stillness." 

In any circumstances the relationship between art and the 
dream is difficult to analyze. The psychoanalytic investigator needs 
to bear in mind Trilling's insistence that the dream-art analogy 
must be corrected to allow for the artist's conscious command of 
his fantasy. He quotes Lamb: "The . . . poet dreams being 
awake. He is not possessed by his subject but he has dominion 
over it." 

Kafka provides a special case for the study of the relationship 
between the dream and creative work. He has given us evidence 
that he employed his dreams and the productions of dreamlike 
states in his writing. In his diaries Kafka records a large number 
of his own dreams. Many of these are terror dreams, dreams of 
torture, mutilation, flight from attackers, of lepers and whores and 
disease, filth, excrement; and monotonously, regularly, dreams of 
the father, the formidable opponent who cannot be conquered 
and who cannot be escaped. A number of these dreams become 
the starting point for a story or a sketch in the diaries, so that 
we can if we wish examine the relationship between the two. 

Like all victims of recurrent terror dreams Kafka suffered from 
insomnia. He feared sleep; he feared his dreams, and the struggle 
against sleep and the yearning for sleep was in itself a repetition 
of a lifelong struggle, as if sleep had become the formidable 
opponent who could not be conquered and to whom it was dan- 
gerous to submit. In a conversation with Janouch he says, "Per- 
haps my insomnia only conceals a great fear of death. Perhaps 
I am afraid that the soul — which in sleep leaves me — will never 
return. Perhaps insomnia is only an all too vivid sense of sin, 
which is afraid of the possibility of a sudden judgment. Perhaps 
insomnia is itself a sin. Perhaps it is a rejection of the natural." 

He wrote at night. "Wenn es nicht diese grauenvollen, schlaf- 
losen Ndchte gabe, so wiirde ich uberhaupt nicht schreiben. So 

Kafka and the Dream 33 

wird mir aber immer meine dunkle Einzelhaft bewusst." But the 
apparitions of the dream which he fended off through sleepless- 
ness forced their way into the fantasies and obsessive thoughts 
which occupied him at these times. These fantasies were them- 
selves very close to dream productions and were the sources of 
a number of stories and sketches. On one occasion Janouch at- 
tempts to pin down Kafka on the meaning of The Verdict (the 
short novel which is also published under the title "The Judg- 
ment"). Kafka, after some embarrassment, says, "The Verdict 
is the spectre of a night." "What do you mean?" "It is a spectre." 
"And yet you wrote it," Janouch says. And Kafka replies, "That 
is merely the verification, and so the complete exorcism of the 
spectre." So that writing for Kafka was also the rite and the magic 
act for the subduing of his disturbing visions. In another con- 
versation with Janouch he allies writing and conjuration: "Das 
Schreiben ist eben eine Art von Geisterbeschworung." 

Kafka has left us an extraordinary record for the study of the 
relationships between his dreams and dreamlike fantasies and his 
writings. I am particularly interested in the dream-story sequences 
in his diaries which show us how he worked with the materials 
of his own dreams. In each of these we see how the problem of 
the dream is taken up in the waking state, and how the elements 
of the dream are recomposed in the story. I have chosen certain 
examples from the dream-story sequences in the diaries in order 
to examine the connections between the dream and the story in 
each case. 

In the examples which follow I employ a method of analysis 
which requires some justification to begin with. I am committed, 
of course, to the psychoanalytic principle that a dream or an 
imaginative work cannot be fully analyzed without the associa- 
tions of the dreamer or the artist. In these studies of the dream- 
story sequences it can be demonstrated that the elements of the 
story which are related to the dream can be regarded as associa- 
tions to the dream, that is that the story takes up the dream 
thoughts, the latent content of the dream, and develops these 
thoughts in a new composition. (This does not mean, of course, 
that the latent meaning of the dream is made conscious to the 


writer, or that the story is an explication of the dream by the 
writer.) In analyzing the dream-story sequences I also make use 
of any other source materials, circumstantial or historical, which 
have a demonstrable relationship to the content of the dream or 
the story. When Kafka tells us the circumstances under which the 
dream is dreamed or the story is written we can assume a rela- 
tionship between these circumstances and the production of a 
dream or a story which can be safely employed in an analytic 
investigation. We are justified in making the same use of a bio- 
graphical fact (like the relationship of Kafka to his father) when 
this information is required for analytic study. Similarly, when 
Kafka shows preference for a certain type of imagery we can 
regard this imagery as overdetermined in the psychoanalytic sense 
and can draw inferences from its use in other writings which we 
are permitted to employ in the present investigation. So far as 
possible I have avoided any arbitrary interpretations of symbols. 


This sketch appears in Kafka's diary on May 27, 1914. It de- 
rives, we find out later in the diary entry, from a kind of threshold 
dream which occurs in the moment before falling asleep. I will 
report the details later on. This entry belongs to the period during 
which Kafka was tormented with doubts about his approaching 
engagement to F.B. in Berlin. 

I have chosen this sketch to begin with because it is useful as 
a small-scale model for the study of the transformation of dream 
elements into a story. Following is a condensation of the story: 

The first appearance of the white horse was on an autumn aft- 
ernoon in a large but not very busy street in the city of A. It 
passed through the entranceway of a house in whose yard a truck- 
ing company had extensive storerooms; . . . [The horse escaped 
before the eyes of onlookers and made its way undisturbed 
through the streets of the city to the outermost streets of the sub- 
urbs.! It accommodated itself to the life of the streets better than 
horses running alone usually do. Its slow pace could frighten no 
one, it never strayed out of the roadway or from its own side of 
the street; when it was obliged to stop for a vehicle coming out 

Kafka and the Dream 35 

of a cross street, it stopped; had the most careful driver been 
leading it by the halter it could not have behaved more perfectly. 
Still, of course, it was a conspicuous sight; here and there some- 
one stopped and looked after it with a smile, a teamster in a pass- 
ing beer wagon jokingly struck down at the horse with his whip; 
it was frightened of course, and reared, but did not quicken its 

It was just this incident, however, that a policeman saw; he 
went over to the horse, who at the very last moment had tried to 
turn off in another direction, took hold of the reins (despite its 
light frame it wore the harness of a dray horse) and said, though 
in a very friendly way: "Whoa! Now where do you think you are 
running off to?" He held on to it for some time in the middle of 
the road, thinking that the animal's owner would soon be along 
after the runaway. 

Kafka follows the unfinished sketch with these remarks: 

It has meaning but it is weak; its blood flows thin, too far from 
the heart. There are still some pretty scenes in my head but I will 
stop regardless. Yesterday the white horse appeared to me for the 
first time before I fell asleep; I have an impression of its first 
stepping out of my head, which was turned to the wall, jumping 
across me and down from the bed and then disappearing. The 
last is unfortunately not refuted by the fact of my having begun 
the story. [Italics mine. S.F.] 

The story of the white horse is inspired by an experience which 
is not at all uncommon at the moment of falling asleep. It belongs 
to a group of phenomena which Freud describes in The Interpre- 
tation of Dreams and to which the name "hypnagogic hallucination" 
was given. In such instances a thought which occurs in the moment 
before falling asleep (or in a state of fatigue) is condensed and 
given a pictorial representation. The mental processes which pro- 
duce this experience are identical with those of dream formation, 
and for all practical purposes such phenomena can be regarded 
as dream phenomena. We can even regard such experiences as 
part of the process of failing asleep, and the preliminary phase of 
dreaming. If the process is not interrupted it would normally lead 
to sleep and further elaboration of the idea in a dream. 

We know that Kafka warded off sleep because of his anxiety, 
his fear of loss of self and his fear of his dreams. The vision of 


the white horse appears to be the preliminary phase of a dream 
which was interrupted. There are many such examples in Kafka's 
diaries. He describes a sleepless night (Oct. 3, 1911): "Again 
it was the power of my dreams, shining forth into wakefulness 
even before I fall asleep, which did not let me sleep." And earlier 
(Oct. 2, 1911): ". . . So that indeed I sleep but at the same 
time vivid dreams keep me awake. I sleep alongside myself, so 
to speak, while I myself must struggle with dreams. ... In short, 
I spend the whole night in that state in which a healthy person 
finds himself for a short time before really falling asleep. . . ." 

Like any dream symbol, Kafka's white horse must be regarded as 
overdetermined. On one level the vision of the white horse can be 
taken as the representation of the dreamer's conscious ego which 
"disappears" in the moment of falling asleep. We recall Kafka's 
own words in describing his fear of sleep. "Perhaps I am afraid 
that the soul — which in sleep leaves me — will never return." 
Kafka catches hold of the white horse, figuratively speaking, and 
brings him back. 

But in accordance with psychoanalytic findings on the structure 
of dream symbols, we should also expect to find that the white 
horse satisfies the need for representation of a preconscious thought 
or wish and an instinctual wish. The preconscious wish is not 
difficult to establish if we take the dream and the story together. 
It must be the wish to run away, to escape. (I will come back 
to the content of this wish later.) This wish is then translated 
into pictures in which the white horse steps out of Kafka's head, 
jumps across him and disappears. But this idea is not permitted 
further elaboration in a dream. The dream process is interrupted 
and the dreamer rouses himself. The wish persists in the waking 
state and provides the motive for a story in which the wish to 
escape is elaborated. The story makes use of the dream imagery 
by transposing some of the details. The horse which stepped out 
of Kafka's head and disappeared, now steps out of the entrance- 
way of a house and escapes. All that follows is an elaboration of 
the theme "to run away." 

To run away from what? I have already mentioned that the 
white horse sequence occurs in the diaries during the week which 

Kafka and the Dream 37 

preceded Kafka's formal engagement to F.B. For months before 
the event Kafka's diary is filled with his doubts and his torments 
about the coming engagement. Approaching marriage exposed 
the full strength of his neurotic conflict. In "The Judgment" and 
"Metamorphosis," in the diary entries of this period we see him 
engaged in a futile struggle to break the ties with his father, to 
become a man. The demands upon his masculinity bring forth 
all his doubts and his fears about himself. There is revulsion at 
the thought of sexual intimacy, the sight of his parents' bed, the 
prospects of his own marriage bed. "Coitus as punishment for the 
happiness of being together. Live as ascetically as possible, more 
ascetically than a bachelor, that is the only possible way for me 
to endure marriage. But she?" (Aug. 14, 1913) "The fear of 
the connection, of passing into the other. Then I'll never be alone 
again." (July 21, 1913) Thoughts of escaping this marriage made 
their appearance again and again in the diaries of this period. 

The white horse entry appears May 27, 1914. Kafka leaves for 
Berlin on May 30 to celebrate his engagement to F.B. On June 6 
he describes the engagement: "Back from Berlin. Was tied hand 
and foot like a criminal. Had they sat me down in a corner bound 
in real chains, placed policemen in front of me and let me look 
on simply like that, it could not have been worse. And that was 
my engagement. . . ." 

The connections between the fantasy of a runaway horse and 
the dreaded engagement are very clear. In the fantasy the Kafka 
horse makes its escape and proceeds unhindered through the 
streets of the city. In the suburbs Kafka allows a policeman to 
take hold of the reins and bring the runaway horse to a halt, as 
if in acknowledgment of his own inescapable fate which waits in 
another city, the engagement in Berlin. The imagery of "arrest" 
is employed in stronger form in Kafka's description of his formal 
engagement a week later. Here he is caught after trying to escape 
like the unhappy horse, "tied hand and foot like a criminal," and 
completes the picture of an arrest with metaphorical policemen 
and chains. These metaphors appealed to him and we find them 
used again in The Trial which begins with the arrest of Joseph K. 


There, too, among other meanings of this complex symbol, "the 
arrest" stands for the engagement, the surrender of freedom. 

All of this provides one useful piece of information in our 
investigation of Kafka's use of a dream element in the composi- 
tion of a story. It is this: One of the wish motives of the dream 
represented by the escaping horse persists in the waking state, and 
finds its connections again with a problem in reality, the approach- 
ing marriage. Kafka then employs the dream imagery, the escaping 
white horse, for a fantasy in which the wish to escape from mar- 
riage is presented in disguised form. 

But then we need to ask, "Why didn't this wish pursue its 
course in a dream?" We have established a motive for a work 
of the imagination but we haven't explained why this work should 
take place in consciousness or why it should not take place in a 

We are on safe grounds psychoanalytically if we make the in- 
ference that the dream process was broken off because tne white 
horse was also the symbol of a repressed wish which could not be 
liberated in a dream without creating anxiety in the dreamer. The 
danger is not presented by the preconscious wish to escape. We 
know this not only from the theory of dreams but from the evi- 
dence of the story which Kafka writes. If it were dangerous to 
wish to escape from marriage the story would not be written 
either. The danger must come from a deeper layer of this conflict 
over marriage, from the instinctual side of the horse symbol. For 
like any dream symbol the white horse is the representation of an 
instinctual wish as well as the preconscious wish which we have 
discerned. Since the two wishes are fused in the dream symbol, 
the fate of the preconscious wish will be bound to that of the 
instinctual wish. If the instinctual wish is regarded as dangerous 
by the dreamer's ego the dream process will be interrupted and 
the secondary wish will automatically be subjected to the same 

But now a crucial argument can be raised. If all this is so 
why shouldn't the same conditions have affected the writing of a 
story? Theoretically if the repressed wish were to attempt to break 
through into consciousness during the writing of the story, the 

Kafka and the Dream 39 

ego would again defend against the danger, an inhibition would 
be set up which would affect the secondary wish "to escape" in 
the same way as in the dream, and the whole process of associ- 
ated ideas would be subjected to the fate of the instinctual wish; 
it would be broken off. In this case a story could not be written 

My interest in this point is not academic, of course. I think 
we really need to examine the fate of the instinctual wish in 
order to find out why a wish can be elaborated in a conscious 
fantasy and not in a dream, why a man writes a story about a 
horse instead of dreaming about a horse. But this line of investi- 
gation poses its own problems. If the wish is repressed how are 
we to know what it is? Since the dreamer in this case cannot 
give his co-operation in analyzing his dream we will attempt to 
use the next best means and see if details of the story of the 
white horse can provide "associations" which lead us to the re- 
pressed wish as well as the preconscious wish to escape. 

We know that in any case (outside psychosis) a repressed idea 
will not emerge into consciousness in its naked, primal sense but 
will become known to us through the defenses which the ego has 
set up to prevent it from becoming conscious. If the story of the 
white horse has its genesis in a dream the story will reveal the 
repressed wish of the dream through defense. 

Now the special attribute of Kafka's white horse in the story 
is its irreproachable conduct. It is a runaway horse which does 
not behave like a runaway horse. "Its slow pace could frighten 
no one. . . . Had the most careful driver been leading it by the 
halter it could not have behaved more perfectly." The emphasis 
throughout the story upon the good conduct and restraint of this 
horse would suggest that it is just this which we should regard as 
defense. More specifically, a quality of a runaway horse, its un- 
controlled, instinctual quality has been transformed in this story 
into its opposite; it is under control, master of itself, even though 
it is unbridled. I would suggest, then, that the danger in the dream 
was instinctual danger, as represented in the symbol, "a runaway 
horse," that the animal was the representative of erotic and ag- 
gressive urges which could not be liberated in the dream without 


creating anxiety in the dreamer. This danger would provide the 
motive for interruption of the dream process and the process of 
falling asleep so that neither the instinctual wish nor the precon- 
scious wish "to escape" are capable of further elaboration in the 

In the story of the white horse we see how the product of a 
conscious fantasy has certain advantages over a dream. The story 
can make use of the horse as a symbol for the wish to run away 
because the conscious ego can effect a compromise which permits 
the elaboration of the preconscious wish and abolishes the inter- 
ference of the instinctual wish. The dangerous aspects of the 
symbol, "a runaway horse," are transformed through defense, the 
horse loses his quality as a representative of instinctual urges and 
acquires other qualities which we attribute to the ego. When the 
horse has, in this way, been made compatible with Kafka's own 
ego, the creative imagination is free to elaborate the preconscious 
wish of the dream. The horse is now the representative of the 
ego and is employed for a fantasy based on Kafka's conflict about 
his coming engagement. 

We see that the conscious ego has great advantages over the 
dreamer's ego in warding off danger. We know that in sleep there 
is a redistribution of psychic energy which accounts for the in- 
crease in the strength of id impulses which push upwards and a 
corresponding decrease in the energy which serves repression. The 
dreamwork, too, achieves compromises and disguises which insure 
the continuation of sleep but when impulses of an intolerable 
strength are liberated in the course of sleep the ego may be un- 
able to deal with them in any other way except to break off 
sleep. But the conscious ego is far better able to deal with such 
conflicts. First of all, the shift from sleeping to waking is accom- 
panied by a shift in energy, so that the instinctual impulses which 
disturbed the sleep are deprived of the powerful reinforcements 
which they obtained in sleep, while the ego regains the energy 
of which it was divested in sleep. Second, the conscious ego is 
equipped so that it can regulate the relationships between mental 
systems and permit the amount of gratification and the degree 
and kind of restriction that is compatible with reality and con- 

Kafka and the Dream 41 

science. And this, I believe, is the reason why Kafka could write 
stories when he could not sleep, why he needed to dream while 
awake, why many of his stories are the sequels to unfinished 
dreams. The dream thoughts in such instances could be com- 
pleted only when the conscious ego could exercise control over 
their destinies. 

In analyzing this sketch and reconstructing the motives for the 
dream production and the story, I have not intended, of course, 
to leave the impression that Kafka deliberately and consciously 
employed these mechanisms to achieve his story. Nor do I think 
he became aware of the deeper significance of his horse symbol 
and consciously effected its disguise. While writing is a conscious 
act, the elaboration of a fantasy is to a large degree the product 
of preconscious mental activity. If, for example, the deeper sig- 
nificance of the white horse were to become known to Kafka in 
the course of his fantasying, this knowledge would inhibit the 
elaboration of the fantasy, and the pleasure gain through disguise 
would be lost. It is usually only upon reflection and following 
the production of a fantasy that some hidden (but not repressed) 
elements of a fantasy can be identified by their author. This is 
why Kafka could say some months after the writing of the Door- 
keeper Legend, and while he was visiting with F.B., that "the 
significance of the story dawned upon me for the first time. . . ." 
(He does not tell us, however, what he thought the story signified.) 

The mental processes through which the white horse fantasy 
was achieved could not have been known to Kafka. Why the white 
horse should be docile and well-behaved is a matter of no concern 
to Kafka or any writer. He needs to be that way or there cannot 
be a story. 

We have seen, then, that Kafka's story of the white horse is 
an elaboration of one of the wish motives of the dream, the pre- 
conscious wish to escape. The story can be regarded as "an asso- 
ciation" to the dream, in that the dreamer, now awake, finds a 
connection between one of the elements of the dream and an 
event in current experience or the remembered past. The re- 
pressed motive of the dream does not become conscious and is 
not manifest in the story except through defense, in which case 


the original wish is transformed into its opposite, and its identity 
would be concealed from its author. (I want to emphasize that 
Kafka was probably not more capable than other men in making 
conscious the repressed portions of his dreams and utilizing them 
in a fresh composition.) The preconscious wish "to escape" could 
be elaborated in a conscious fantasy although it was withdrawn 
from elaboration in a dream, an accomplishment which we attri- 
bute to the conscious ego. For the conscious ego could abolish 
the interference of the instinctual wish through defensive measures 
which the dreamer lacked 


In the diary entry for November 24, 1913 (also during the 
period of struggle against marriage with F.B.), Kafka records a 
dream which is followed by a story in which certain elements of 
the dream are employed. 

The dream: I am sitting in the garden of a sanatorium at a 
long table, at the very head, and in the dream I actually see my 
back. It is a gloomy day, I must have gone on a trip and am in an 
automobile that arrived a short time ago, driving up in a curve 
to the front of the platform. They are just about to bring in the 
food when I see one of the waitresses, a young delicate girl wear- 
ing a dress the color of autumn leaves, approaching with a very 
light or unsteady step through the pillared hall that served as the 
porch of the sanatorium, and going down into the garden. I don't 
yet know what she wants but nevertheless point questioningly at 
myself to learn whether she wants me. And in fact she brings me 
a letter. But I open it and a great number of thin sheets covered 
with writing come out, all of them in the strange handwriting. 
I think, this can't be the letter I'm expecting, it is a very thin let- 
ter and a strange, thin, unsure handwriting. I begin to read, leaf 
through the pages and recognize that it must be a very important 
letter and apparently from F.'s youngest sister. I eagerly begin to 
read, then my neighbor on the right, I don't know whether man 
or woman, probably a child, looks down over my arm at the let- 
ter. I scream, "No!" The round table of nervous people begins to 

Kafka and the Dream 43 

tremble. I have probably caused a disaster. I attempt to apologize 
with a few hasty words in order to go on with the reading. I bend 
over my letter again, only to wake up without resistance, as if 
awakened by my own scream. With complete awareness I force 
myself to fall asleep again, the scene reappears, in fact I quickly 
read two or three more misty lines of the letter, nothing of which 
I remember, and lose the dream in further sleep. 

The story: In the story which follows the dream entry in the 
diary, the dream details of "a message" and "an interruption" are 
brought together again. Following is a summary of the sketch: 
The old merchant Messner, laboriously ascending the stairs to 
his room, is confronted by a young man who has stationed himself 
in a dark corner. The merchant "still groaning from the exertion 
of his climb" demands to know who this is and what he wants. 
The young man introduces himself as a student named Kette. 
He has come to deliver a message to the merchant. The student 
wishes to discuss the message in Messner's room. Messner ob- 
stinately refuses. "I do not receive guests at night." If the student 
wishes to give him the message he can give it now, in the hall. 
The student protests. The merchant dismisses him curtly. He is 
not interested in the message. "Every message that I am spared 
is a gain. I am not curious." He enters his room, locks the door 
upon the protesting Kette. A moment later there is a persistent 
knocking on the door. "The knocking came the way children at 
play scatter their knocks over the whole door, now down low, 
dull against the wood, now up high, clear against the glass." The 
merchant approaches the door a stick in hand. "Is anyone still 
out there?" "Yes. Please open the door for me." Messner opens 
the door and advances toward the student with his stick. "Don't 
hit me," the student warns him. "Then go!" The merchant points 
his finger at the stair. "But I can't," said the student and ran up 
to Messner so surprisingly. . . . The story breaks off here, just 
as the dream breaks off at the point, "I have probably caused a 
disaster" and with the dreamer's hasty apology. 

Certain elements of the dream reappear in the story. In the 
dream someone, "probably a child," interrupts the reading of the 
important message, invades the privacy of the dreamer through 


spying upon the letter. In the story a young student interrupts the 
old man, creates a disturbance late at night, disturbs the privacy 
of the merchant. The connection between the child in the dream 
and the student is further suggested by the knocking on the door 
in the story which is likened to the knocking of children at play. 
The antagonists in the dream, the dreamer and a child, become 
the merchant Messner and the student Kette. The "merchant" is 
a familiar character in Kafka's writings. He is Kafka's merchant 
father. Kette, chain, might signify the bond which tied Kafka to his 
father. (See also Kafka's own analysis of the name Georg Bende- 
man in The Verdict in which he identifies Bende with bonds, the 
bonds between father and son. Diaries, I, p. 278.) The symbolism 
becomes clear. The chain, the bonds which tie father and son 
cannot be severed. Here the link to F.B. in the dream is seen, 
for Kafka himself understood and explicitly stated in his diaries 
and his own analysis of The Verdict that it was the tie between 
himself and his father which made marriage with F.B. impossible. 

The message in the dream is contained in the letter, but it is a 
message which is not received, so to speak, because of the inter- 
ruption. When the dreamer returns to it after waking he can 
read a few more "misty lines," none of which he remembers, then 
loses the dream in further sleep. In the story, too, the message 
is never delivered. The merchant does not want to hear it. (In 
both instances the nature of the message is not known.) The 
letter, the message, seem to belong to the group of "lost com- 
munication" symbols in Kafka's writing which were mentioned 
earlier, and are analogous, particularly, to the telephones in The 
Castle. They are failures in human connections, of course, here 
represented in the dream by the symbol of a letter from a woman 
and in the story by the message for the man. His life conflict is 
delineated in these terms. He cannot receive a woman's love (he 
cannot read the letter in the dream) and he cannot give his love 
to a man (the thwarted message for Messner in the story). 

In examining the connections between the dream and the story 
we should give our attention to those details which are most highly 
charged with feeling. In the dream it is the interruption, the in- 
vasion of privacy and the "no" which create anxiety in the 

Kafka and the Dream 45 

dreamer. These details must be highly overdetermined in the dream 
with threads leading to the dream day and current experience and 
other threads leading back to infantile experience. It is possible 
that these details represent (among many other things) the con- 
flict over marriage which was uppermost in Kafka's thoughts dur- 
ing this period. For Kafka saw marriage as an invasion of his 
privacy, "then I'll never be alone again," and an interference with 
his writing, "But then would it not be at the expense of my writing? 
Not that, not that!" (Both quotations are from his "Summary of 
all the arguments for and against my marriage," July 21, 1913.) 
But also he desired this marriage and in his list of arguments 
there is one in favor of marriage, "Inability to bear life alone." I 
think, then, that these thoughts made their way into the dream 
details. He is "eager" to read the letter which has a connection 
with F. but "someone" interferes, invades his privacy, and his 
cry of "no!" is the vehement protest against marriage, the inva- 
sion of his privacy, the interference with his work. 

But these interpretations would account only for those motives 
in the dream which are provided by a current conflict. These de- 
tails must also have threads which lead back into infantile experi- 
ence. In an early draft of this paper I attempted to reconstruct a 
childhood memory from these details which I could not support 
on any basis except clinical experience in dream interpretation. 
While such tentative constructions are allowable in psychoanalytic 
investigation the test of validation is provided by the live patient 
or subject of the investigation, i.e., the patient will confirm or 
not confirm the analyst's construction. In this case, it seemed, the 
subject of my investigation could never offer the necessary con- 
firmation. His diaries and recollections provided me with nothing 
more specific for my purposes, and while I thought I found evi- 
dence in certain of his writings, the use of imaginative works for 
"evidence" could bring forth the same criticism as the use of 
dream details for "evidence." We still don't know if it really hap- 
pened. So, in this earlier draft I wrote in a tentative construction 
based on these dream details which read as follows: "The details 
in the dream suggest a crisis in childhood, an interruption by a 
child, an invasion of privacy, and a severe prohibition represented 


by the 'no!' — an early disaster which caused a small child to trem- 
ble in fear." (In the dream reversal "the round table of nerv- 
ous people began to tremble.") I could not pursue this further and 
I was also bothered by the fact that the connecting links between 
the dream details, my reconstruction, and the Messner-Kette story 
could not be clearly established. 

Last year the text of Kafka's "Letter to My Father" was pub- 
lished in full for the first time. In a long outpouring of old griefs 
and reproaches there is one memory to which Kafka himself at- 
tached the greatest importance and which provided unexpected 
confirmation of my construction and the connecting links between 
the dream and the Messner-Kette story. 

There is only one episode in the early years of which I have a 
direct memory. You may remember it, too. Once in the night I 
kept on whimpering for water, not, I am certain, because I was 
thirsty, but probably partly to be annoying, partly to amuse my- 
self. After several vigorous threats had failed to have any effect, 
you took me out of bed, carried me out onto the pavlatche (a 
balcony) and left me there alone for a while in my nightshirt, 
outside the shut door. I am not going to say this was wrong — 
perhaps at the time there was really no other way of getting peace 
and quiet that night — but I mention it as typical of your methods 
of bringing up a child and their effect on me. I dare say I was 
quite obedient afterwards at that period, but it did me inner 
harm. What was for me a matter of course, that senseless asking 
for water, and the extraordinary terror of being carried outside, 
were two things that I, my nature being what it was, could never 
properly connect with each other. Even years afterwards I suf- 
fered from the tormenting fancy that the huge man, my father, 
the ultimate authority, would come almost for no reason at all 
and take me out of bed in the night and carry me out onto the 
pavlatche, and that therefore I was such a mere nothing for him. 

This memory has made its way into the dream and the story. I 
would like to propose from the evidence of Kafka's recorded 
dreams and his stories that this experience was not the only one 
in which he disturbed his father at night with disastrous conse- 
quences, for the theme of sexual observation occurs repeatedly in 
Kafka's dreams and his writings. But he is probably truthful in 
saying that this episode is the only one of his early years of which 

Kafka and the Dream 47 

he has a direct memory, for such infantile sexual scenes as I have 
inferred from the material ordinarily undergo repression. It is 
even probable that Kafka's memory of the disturbance at night 
which he describes obtained its dreadful proportions in his child's 
eyes from an earlier interruption the memory of which was re- 
pressed. We would then regard the memory which was retained 
in consciousness as a screen memory, that is, certain qualities of 
the repressed experience are displaced onto the later, more inno- 
cent interruption at night, the one that survives in memory. 

But for our purposes here we can work best with the memory 
which Kafka has given us, the crisis at night which led to the 
forceful eviction of a small boy and the punishment of being locked 
out on a balcony. For it is very clear that Kafka has written into 
the Messner-Kette story the scene of this childhood calamity, the 
disturbance at night which provoked his father's anger. The de- 
tails are there: the interruption at night, the student's plea to be 
heard, to deliver the message, the merchant's angry refusal, the 
locking out of the intruder, the persistent demands of the student, 
the menacing reappearance of the merchant, with the command 
to leave and the student's last protest. With very few changes the 
story of the childhood crisis is retold. The conflict between a 
small boy and his father becomes a conflict between two strangers, 
an older man and a student, aptly named Messner and Kette. It 
is a compact statement of the idea that the conflict between father 
and son persists unchanged in the adult years of the son. The 
story is unfinished. It breaks off when the merchant commands 
the student to leave. " 'But I can't,' said the student and ran up 
to Messner so surprisingly. . . ." We are reminded of the dream 
now which ends abruptly at the point, "I have probably caused a 
disaster," and with the dreamer's hasty apology. 

Now I think we can understand the relationship between the 
dream of the letter and the story. It is as if the dreamer takes up 
the problem of the dream in the waking state, searches for its 
meaning, and comes up with a memory, an association to one 
of the dream elements. It is probable that the dream details of 
the interruption by the child, the cry "No!" and the observation, 
"I have probably caused a disaster," those details which are highly 


charged with feeling, lead the dreamer's waking associations back 
to the event in childhood. The story then makes use of the mem- 
ory, recasts and resets it as the encounter between the merchant 
Messner and the student Kette. 

But then we need to ask, "What is the motive in writing the 
story, or, more exactly, in putting this memory into the form of 
a story?" By doing this Kafka attempts to get rid of the painful 
effects of this memory through repetition, through experiencing it 
once again in order to overcome it. He gives the childhood event 
a second existence in the story. The original conflict led to dis- 
aster because the antagonists were a small boy and his powerful 
father. In the new edition he tries out the event once again with 
the antagonists a young man and an old and wheezing merchant 
as if this time there might be hope for a different outcome. But 
the young man is defeated by the old man once again as if the 
problem can find no solution in the imagination either. 

We have seen the connections between details in the dream, a 
memory, and a story, but in reading the story of Messner-Kette 
we feel that in the process of reworking these details into a story 
something got lost. There is an emptiness in this story which we 
cannot immediately account for when we consider its source in 
a dream and a memory which were highly charged with emotion. 
Now the effect of this story is certainly intended by Kafka; it is 
satirical, absurd, and its author is saying, Here is a spectacle for 
you! A young man and an aging man are like a small boy and his 
father, but the old man still has his power and the young man 
is still a weakling, a child who whimpers at night outside his 
father's room. But even the irony is weakened in this story by 
the absence of any emotional quality. 

It seems that in the process of utilizing a dream detail and a 
memory in a story the ideational content was preserved but the 
emotional content was lost. We have already mentioned as one 
of the advantages of a conscious fantasy over a dream that the 
conscious ego can control the quantities of affect and can admit 
into consciousness only those quantities which can be tolerated. 
It is even possible for the ego to permit a fantasy or a memory 
to emerge into consciousness while its accompanying affects are 

Kafka and the Dream 49 

held back by the repressive mechanisms. In this way once painful 
memories appear in consciousness as empty or disembodied im- 
ages, ghosts of themselves which hold no real terror because they 
are not alive, are not animated by the original full charge of 
energy. Similarly, the grossest, the most naked sensual fantasies 
can be admitted to conscious expression if they are deprived of 
their accompanying affects. The quality of the mental production 
is then altered accordingly so that the fantasy seems dead, unreal. 

Now this is a quality which appears very strongly in Kafka's 
writings. Think of the torture in "In the Penal Colony," the scene, 
"The Whippers," in The Trial. The detachment which accom- 
panies these descriptions is the mental quality of the writer who 
admitted these awful visions into consciousness by making them 
silent, by anesthetizing the vital parts. Only in this way could he 
confront his specters without dread. Kafka's people, the people 
of his stories, are the product of this emotional isolation. They 
do not live, they imitate the living. They are human abstractions 
and abstractions of human qualities exactly as dream people are. 
We could never believe in Kafka's people if we did not take them 
as dream people and accept Kafka's world as a dream world. 

From these ideas on the defenses against affect which Kafka 
employed in his writing I think I can also deduce the reasons 
why so many of his stories are unfinished. Frequently Kafka's 
stories and sketches break off at the critical moment, as a dream 
breaks off when a signal of danger occurs. It seems probable to 
me that at those points in Kafka's stories where a strong emo- 
tion threatens to break through the defenses, the story breaks off. 
We never find out what it was that the student Kette was about to 
do or say at the critical point in the Messner-Kette story. The 
story breaks off just as the dream breaks off and this may be for 
the same reasons. 


In these examples we see how the story takes up the problem 
of the dream, how the latent dream thoughts are transformed in 


the waking state and worked into a new composition. The story 
stands in the same relationship to the dream as a dreamer's wak- 
ing associations to his dream and its elements can be regarded 
as associations to the dream. There is this difference, of course: 
ordinarily when a man pursues his thoughts in relation to a dream, 
these thoughts, if they are free associations, will emerge in a form- 
less, chaotic stream. Now Kafka does bind these disordered ele- 
ments together in a narrative, but the narrative is as indifferent 
to the conventions of storytelling as is the manifest dream. The 
comparison between these two should be closely examined. The 
latent dream thoughts are themselves disordered fragments and 
what we call the manifest dream, the "story" of the dream is the 
attempt on the part of the dreamwork to give a semblance of 
order and coherence to materials which have no logical connec- 
tions and are governed by primitive thought processes. Freud 
called this aspect of the dreamwork "secondary elaboration." The 
resulting "story" in the dream when considered as a composition 
is loosely and often indifferently strung together in a narrative 
which combines its elements without regard for compatibility, tem- 
poral sequence or the boundaries of space. (While many dreams 
do present an intelligible facade, when we say "like a dream" we 
usually mean the disordered dream, the absurd dream. ) 

Kafka's stories in the examples studied here are associations to 
the dream and are also composed like the dream. The so-called 
"dream technique" is like the dream's own method of composi- 
tion, the process of secondary elaboration. There is no doubt that 
Kafka deliberately employed this device of the dream for repro- 
ducing the effect of the dream in his stories. But I think it is also 
true, as I mentioned earlier, that his gift in re-creating the dream 
world in his stories derived from illness. I want to emphasize that 
I do not think Kafka was psychotic, but the danger of psychosis 
was very real, probably as real as he feared. He never actually 
lost touch with reality, never lost his citizenship in the real world 
even when he pronounced himself "a citizen of this other world." 
His writing must be considered as his strongest bond to the real 
world and may even be responsible for maintaining his contact 
with reality. 

Kafka and the Dream 51 

I think I can support this last statement from certain remarks 
of Kafka regarding the conditions under which he wrote. If it 
were not for the sleepless nights he would not write at all, he 
says. (This should not be taken literally, of course, but it is a 
fact that most of his writing was the work of these sleepless nights 
and we have seen the close connection between these nocturnal 
fantasies and the anxiety dreams which he warded off through 
insomnia.) He himself connects his fear of sleep and his fear of 
death. "Perhaps I am afraid that the soul — which in sleep leaves 
me — will never return." In psychological terms, he is afraid of 
sleep because in sleep he loses the self, or awareness of self, and 
there is the danger that he may not recover it. This is a common 
fear in severe neuroses, where the danger of losing the self and the 
ties to reality is real. This extreme peril to the ego gives rise in 
many serious neuroses (and psychoses as well) to creative spells 
in which the ego attempts to counteract the loosening of its bonds 
to reality by energetically recreating aspects of the objective 
world. (Ernst Kris develops this psychoanalytic idea in his Psy- 
choanalytic Explorations in Art, a group of brilliant essays dealing 
with the phenomenon of restitution in art.) But the restitutive 
function of art is not confined to morbid states and I feel that I 
am doing this psychoanalytic theory an injustice by introducing 
it in this context. In Kafka's case, however, we need the clinical 
observations on restitution in order to explain the function of 
writing in his neurosis. Only one who is in great danger of losing 
the self and the real world will fear sleep as Kafka did. Ihis„ex- 
plains why Kafka wrote_only of himself. He needed to affirm and 
"TC^H^h^.unc£rtain exi§tgnce in Jhe reaT~worTd through creating 
images of-Mmsetfrthrottgh giving- himselflajl existence on paper. 
In this way. his writing .preserved his ties to reality. 

The problem of art and neurosis is often brought in irrelevantly 
to the study of a work. In Kafka's writing the problem is not only 
relevant but it intrudes itself into the study of his works. Wf_ 
cannot_jmderjtand_his wrjflffjf - wj%*"t , im ^erstan ding Jum^and 
this must^bgjcQn^ted as a^fajpure in-the ,work. The ambiguity of 
hTslvnting has given rise to a Kafka criticism in which the works 
have stimulated impressions and fantasies like the inkblots on the 


Rorschach test. With the publication in recent years of the Kafka 
notebooks, letters, conversations and miscellaneous pieces, Kafka 
as Mystic, Kafka as Cabalist, Kafka as Prophet, Kafka as Social 
Critic, and a large number of other Kafkas have receded and 
we are left to read Kafka as Joseph K. and as Gregor Samsa, a 
man who had less to say about the world he lived in than about 
the world that lived in him. 

Kafka offers himself and his disease as a symbol which exer- 
cises an extraordinary attraction in our time. For mental illness 
is the romantic disease of this age just as tuberculosis was in the 
past century. His writing is expiation, atonement, an extreme mor- 
tification before his human judges, and the bond he creates between 
himself and his reader is in part the bond of guilt, of uncon- 
scious sin. But this does not account for his vogue during the past 
twenty years. The awe and mysticism which surrounds the figure 
of Kafka and his writings bring to mind those feelings which are 
aroused in us by a premonitory dream. When the events of the 
dream or of inner life are reproduced in the world of reality we 
are inclined to endow both the dream and the dreamer with magi- 
cal and divine qualities. The events of our recent history have 
appeared to us like the full-scale performance of Kafka's tor- 
mented dreams. The peril to our reason has given a significance 
to Kafka's writings which, we must grant, was not altogether his 

Kafka appears, finally, as a crippled writer, a man in whom 
the disease and the art were united in a kind of morbid love so 
that neither could set the other free. "Die Kunst ist fiir den 
Kunstler ein Leid, durch das er sich fur ein neues held befreit," 
he said. His writing represented, among other things, an attempt 
to free himself from neurotic suffering, to repeat and to relive it 
in order to conquer it. But behind each door with Kafka there 
was another door, as in the imagery of the legend "Before the 
Law." An unending chain of events led backward into earliest 
times and the conquest of danger and of suffering was a succession 
of battles in which a new enemy grew in the spot of the last one 
vanquished, and the new enemy was only a replica of the one 
who came before. 

Kafka and the Dream 53 

The disease which produced extraordinary dreams exerted its 
morbid influence on the creative process as well. The striving for 
synthesis, for integration and harmony which are the marks of a 
healthy ego and a healthy art are lacking in Kafka's life and in 
his writings. The conflict is weak in Kafka's stories because the 
ego is submissive; the unequal forces within the Kafka psyche 
create no tension within the reader, only a fraternal sadness, an 
identification between a writer and reader which takes place in 
the most solitary regions of the ego. 

1 Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny," Collected Papers, Vol. IV. 

2 For another treatment of the "uncanny" in Kafka's writing, see M. B. 
Hecht, "Uncanniness, Yearning and Franz Kafka's Works," Imago (April, 

Marie Bonaparte 

Poe and the Function of Literature 

Before embarking on our analysis of Poe's 
tales, we wrote: "Works of art or literature profoundly reveal 
their creators' psychology and, as Freud has shown, their con- 
struction resembles that of our dreams. The same mechanisms 
which, in dreams or nightmares, govern the manner in which our 
strongest, though most carefully concealed desires are elaborated, 
desires which often are the most repugnant to consciousness, also 
govern the elaboration of the work of art." Freud, in The Relation 
of the Poet to Day-Dreaming x has demonstrated the links which 
bind the daydreams of adolescents or adults — so nearly related 
to the dreams of the night — to the play activities of children; both 
being Active fulfillments of wishes. There, too, Freud shows how 
daydreams and creative writing resemble each other, since the 
latter gratifies the artist's deepest infantile, archaic and unconscious 
wishes in imaginary and, more or less, disguised form. Literary 
works might thus be ranged according to a scale of subjectivity. 
At one extreme, we should find the writings of a Maupassant or 
Zola, works written almost impersonally, as it were, in which the 
author is a spectator merely recording the panorama of existence: 

Poe and the Function of Literature 55 

such, so to speak, would be works of "viewers" of genius, resem- 
bling certain unusual forms of daydreaming, however different, at 
first sight, they might seem from the average night or day dream. 
In every case, however, we should have to determine the extent 
to which the author's personality, split into psychic elements seek- 
ing to embody themselves in different characters, permits the 
author to re-embody himself in each of the characters observed. 
So, too, in mythological subjects, which would seem a source of 
external inspiration to the dramatist or poet, and which represent 
humanity's collective phylogenetic daydreams, an author's onto- 
genetic complexes will always seek ways of expression in the 
choice of theme and its elaboration. 

It is thus possible, through infinite gradations, to pass from what 
appear purely objective works to others altogether subjective, 
which last would seem the original form of creative writing. In 
this latter the author's complexes, more or less masked, project 
themselves into the work. 

It is works that are wholly subjective, loaded with their cre- 
ator's unconscious memories or, as we would say, with his com- 
plexes, which resemble not only adolescent daydreams but even 
the night dreams of man. Thus, at one end of our scale we might 
place the works of a Poe or Hoffmann which not only resemble the 
dream in the fashion they are elaborated, but often reproduce the 
shape and construction of our nightmares. Moreover, addiction to 
drugs doubtless played its part in the creations of both men. 

The deep infantile sources from which Poe's inspiration was 
drawn has, we trust, been made clear in the earlier portions of 
this study. It now remains for us to show, as in Poe's tales, what 
psychic mechanisms, as such, generally govern the manner in 
which works of literature are elaborated. 

In his The Interpretation of Dreams, that foundation stone of 
modern psychology, the only psychology worth the name, that 
which probes the unconscious, Freud, concluding his chapter on 
dream elaboration, wrote: 

It (the Dream-Work) may be exhaustively described if we do 
not lose sight of the conditions which its product must satisfy. 


This product, the dream, has above all to be withdrawn from the 
censorship, and to this end the dreamwork makes use of the dis- 
placement of psychic intensities, even to the transvaluation of all 
psychic values; thoughts must be exclusively or predominantly 
reproduced in the material of visual and acoustic memory-traces, 
and from this requirement there proceeds the regard of the 
dream-work for representability , which it satisfies by fresh dis- 
placements. Greater intensities have (probably) to be produced 
than are at the disposal of the night dream-thoughts, and this 
purpose is served by the extensive condensation to which the con- 
stituents of the dream-thoughts are subjected. Little attention is 
paid to the logical relations of the thought material; they ulti- 
mately find a veiled representation in the formal peculiarities of 
the dream. The affects of the dream-thoughts undergo slighter 
alterations than their conceptual content. As a rule, they are sup- 
pressed; where they are preserved, they are freed from the con- 
cepts and combined in accordance with their similarity. Only one 
part of the dream-work — the revision, variable in amount, which 
is effected by the partially awakened conscious thought — is at all 
consistent with the conception which the writers on the subject 
have endeavoured to extend to the whole performance of dream- 
formation. 2 

Starting from this resume of the conditions which must be sat- 
isfied by the dream product and which imply the processes which 
govern its formation, we shall see that these processes, in varying 
aspects and degrees, are identical with those by which the uncon- 
scious content of a literary work, using preconscious thought as a 
between-stage, is able to pass into the conscious product of the 
written work. We shall find nothing to surprise us in this fact, 
since these mechanisms and laws are none other than those which 
universally govern the human psyche. 

Before, however, we study the diverse processes which govern 
the elaboration of a literary work, let us seek to formulate a more 
precise idea of the different psychic states to which we have referred. 

What are we to understand, firstly, by unconscious memories, 
representations or affects which, let there be no mistake, denote 
happenings which pass totally unperceived or even suspected by 
consciousness? Our earliest infantile memories always remain in 
this condition, as do the representations associated with them. They 

Poe and the Function of Literature 57 

thus form, with the atavistic sum total of our instincts, the nu- 
cleus of what we term the unconscious, from which only their 
unconscious affects succeed in emerging into the preconscious, 
though displaced on other objects. Thus, it is, that our infantile 
unconscious continues to govern our lives by imposing its choice 
of those representations most fitted to effect such displacements. 

Preconscious representations may be described as those which, 
though generally unconscious, may nevertheless emerge into con- 
sciousness given suitable occasion. Thus, in effect, we distinguish 
between two types of unconscious; on one hand the unconscious 
proper which can never be brought to the surface, composed of the 
original storehouse of our instincts and earliest infantile experi- 
ences and, on the other, the preconscious compounded of later 
memories and representations which, though generally unconscious 
may, under favoring conditions, be brought into consciousness. 

As for consciousness, its part is very limited, although psychol- 
ogy once included every psychic function in this category. It would 
appear to be merely our capacity for apperception but, here, turned 
inward to happenings in the psyche. And, just as our capacity for 
external perception, via the senses, can only perceive phenomena 
without probing their essence, so our faculty of inner perception 
can only observe surface movements and gleams of happenings 
in the inaccessible depths of our unconscious. Thus our conscious 
ego is never but the more or less watchful spectator of ourselves. 

When dreams or literary works are elaborated what generally 
happens, as indeed with all our psychic products, is that first there 
has been an external perception. During the day however, our 
attention, to adapt us to reality, requires us to move from object 
to object. Thus, the beginnings and ends of certain trains of asso- 
ciation, during the day, sink into the preconscious. There they 
continue until their affect is dispersed and vanishes. But, also, they 
may encounter a link which, by association with some unconscious 
memory, leads to the unconscious. The entire preconscious chain 
of associations is then swept into the unconscious and are charged 
with the incomparable energy inherent in archaic repressed af- 
fects which remain resistant to time, because to consciousness. 
Reinforced by this affect, they then emerge into consciousness as a 


night or day dream. It is when this "sinking into the uncon- 
scious" takes place and before they emerge in new guise, that the 
preconscious thoughts are subjected to the curious processes, proc- 
esses very different from those of logical thought, which we shall 
now consider. 

But before we do so, a further remark is necessary. Although 
language forces us to speak of sinking into the unconscious and 
passing from the unconscious to the preconscious, we must beware 
of imagining unconscious, preconscious or conscious as localized 
regions of the psyche, for they are but diverse conditions of the 

By sinking into the unconscious, thought pictures (representa- 
tions) are, firstly, able to lose their affect, which then slips on to 
more or less allied representations. Examples of such displacement 
of psychic intensity are so numerous that they constitute, so to 
speak, the warp and woof of the writer's fabric. To mention only 
the most striking: in the series of tales of the "Live-in-Death 
Mother," for instance, displacement is generally confined to trans- 
ferring the predominant affect, originally attached to the mother, 
to the imaginary figures endowed with the attributes which per- 
tained to the dead woman. Berenice, Morella, Ligeia, Madeline, 
are as morbid, as evanescent as advanced consumptives, while their 
sylphlike motions seem, already, to exhale an odor of decay. Never- 
theless, this simple displacement served to keep Poe ignorant, as 
for almost a century his readers, that these ailing sylphs were but 
forms of Elizabeth Arnold. At the most, it was sometimes guessed 
that Virginia might be a surrogate of Elizabeth. 

With The Fall of the House of Usher, however, a greater degree 
of displacement strikes us. There, the "Live-in-Death Mother" is 
represented not only by Madeline's human form but as a building; 
a house whose walls, whose atmosphere, breathe putrefaction. To 
effect this gross displacement, Poe employs one of man's universal 
symbols; that which represents a woman as a building. 

In Metzenger stein, the Mother is represented, totemically, by a 
horse. It is on this that the incestuous libidinal emphasis, which 
originally belonged to the mother, is displaced. Who ever would 

Poe and the Function of Literature 59 

have found his way through all this but for the keys, the laws, 
revealed by Freud in his The Interpretation of Dreams? Intellec- 
tually that is, for it is just because our unconscious so well recog- 
nizes, under the strangeness of the manifest tale, the depth and 
reality of the tragedy latently enacted, that each of Poe's stories 
stirs our instincts so deeply, however puerile they at times seem. 

With the tales of the "Mother-as-Landscape," the displacement 
of psychic intensities manifests itself in ever more forms and on 
a yet vaster scale. Our primary bent, to absorb the universe narcis- 
sistically, enables the libido with which we invest objects to attach 
itself to all our senses perceive, however microscopic or large; the 
seas, the earth's depths, the stars. Thus the mother, the first object 
we learn to differentiate from ourselves, is represented in The 
Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym not only by ships, or the strange 
white totem animal Tekeli-li, but also by the ocean, one of her 
universal symbols. 

Again, in the burial phantasy of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon 
Pym and more, even, of The Gold Bug, the earth also symbolizes 
the mother and, its "bowels," her bowels or womb. In its turn, too, 
in The Unparalleled Adventures of one Hans Pfaall, the pale, cold 
moon represents the mother, while the son's yearning for these 
symbolic mothers is revealed in the passion with which Poe's vari- 
ous heroes seek to explore and win the earth, the sky, the seas. 
In Poe's three sea stories, the sea yawns into vast funnels down 
which the son precipitously returns to the place wherefrom he 

In that strange tale, Loss of Breath, with its indirect confession 
of Poe's impotence, it will not surprise us to discover many and 
varied instances of such displacements. The basic displacement 
here is that whereby affect is transferred from the natural con- 
cern felt by all men in connection with their sexual potency, to a 
concern for lungs and breath. Here, too, Poe has resorted to one 
of humanity's consecrated symbols, for many theogonies attribute 
creative powers to their deities' divine breath. It would be beyond 
our scope to recall here all the displacements with which this tale 
abounds. The first "guilty" aggressive sex attack by Mr. Lacko'- 
breath was, as we saw, replaced by verbal aggression which resulted 


in his punishment; namely, the loss of breath inflicted by the cas- 
trating father in shape of Mr. Windenough; his being crushed by 
the fat gentleman in the diligence; his being dismembered by the 
surgeon and, again, his being perforated by the undertaker's screw; 
all, so many variants of the same theme. On the other hand, he is 
rephallized in the form of hanging. And erection is depicted by 
an endless swelling of the hero's body after he is hanged. Thus, the 
libidinal emphasis properly attached to the phallus is displaced on 
this swelling, which now appears as anxiety and the antithesis of 
the pleasures so much feared by Poe. Perhaps the only motif which 
appears almost unchanged is that of Elizabeth Arnold's "guilty" 
love letters, doubtless, because thus isolated in a distorted context, 
they seemed sufficiently disguised. This whole tale, which con- 
fesses Poe's tragedy, his impotence, is characterized by its reversed 
affect: it is a tragedy masquerading as burlesque. Representation 
by opposite, by which we disguise what we dare not openly express 
— which device we shall later discuss — dominates this tale. Nor is 
it by chance that even rephallization is represented, ironically, by 
a limp, dangling body. 

In the tales of the "Murdered Mother," displacement of affect is 
clearly revealed. The slayer-father, as imaged in the infantile 
sadistic concept of coitus, here appears as the mysterious unknown, 
the "Man of the Crowd," "type and genius of profound crime" as, 
also, in the orangutan of The Murders in the Rue Morgue. In one 
case, a dagger symbolizes the piercing phallus; in the other, a 
razor. There is displacement, too, in the locked room of the Rue 
Morgue — which represents the mother as much as does old Mad- 
ame L'Espanaye — and displacement once more in the chimney, 
which figures the maternal cloaca into which the daughter is thrust. 
Further displacements are the gouged-out eye of The Black Cat 
symbolizing the castration wound, the cat's rephallization in the 
form of hanging, and the cat as widespread symbol of woman and 
her genital organs. 

In the tales of "Revolt against the Father," the psychic emphasis 
properly attached to the phallus is attached to The T ell-Tale Heart, 
while that in The Cask of Amontillado, proper to the maternal 
bowels, is shifted upon Montresor's vaults. Indeed, all representa- 

Poe and the Function of Literature 61 

tions by courtiers, princes or kings, of the parents we knew as 
children, as in Hop-Frog or The Red Death, are so many displace- 
ments designed to render them unrecognizable for what they are, 
so that, unsuspecting, they may play their "guilty," libidinal parts. 

The Devil who bets and wins Mr. Dammit's head, and the sym- 
bolic bridge which beheads him with its iron bracings were, as we 
saw, displacements first of the avenging father and then, of the 
danger-fraught vagina with its imaginary, fearsome teeth. Innumer- 
able are the displacements which went to construct The Pit and the 
Pendulum nightmare. The cell as the contractile womb of the 
mother, the vaginal pit, and the penis-scythe of Time, are but the 
most striking. Finally, what shall we say of the sidereal displace- 
ments of that androgynous system Eureka or of its God who, like 
all great deities, is a displacement of the father on infinity; or, of 
the primal ejaculation of that God; or again, of the Particle Proper, 
that first spermatozoon from which, through irradiation or cellular 
fission, the Universe, child of God, was born? 

But here we must interrupt our recital of these examples of dis- 
placement in the stories we have analyzed. To instance them all 
would be almost to rewrite this book. 

Of all the devices employed by the dreamwork, that of the dis- 
placement of psychic intensities — apart from one exception — is the 
most freely used in the elaboration of works of art, doubtless be- 
cause such displacement is generally dictated by the moral censor, 
which is more active in our waking thoughts than in sleep. The 
conceiving and writing of literary works are conscious activities, 
and the less the author guesses of the hidden themes in his works, 
the likelier are they to be truly creative. 

The moral censor, as we see, employs displacement to veil from 
authors, as from dreamers, the nature of the instincts which dreams, 
or works of art, reveal. But there is yet another condition which 
creative work must satisfy, namely, regard for representability, 
although in less degree than is required by dreams or the plastic 
arts. This regard for representability, as Freud wrote in the passage 
earlier quoted, leads to fresh displacements which, in dreams, at- 
tach themselves to latent elements too abstract to fulfill the regard 


for representability needed to create dreams. Yet, in literature, 
we frequently find chains of abstract thought which would, with 
difficulty, find their way into dreams — as, for instance, Dupin's 
reasoning at the beginning of The Murders in the Rue Morgue or 
Legrand's deductions in The Gold Bug. The dream, for instance, in 
the former, would have represented the comparison of the "ingen- 
ious" chess player with the more "analytic" whist player by simul- 
taneously, or successively, presenting people playing whist and 
chess, the superiority of the whist players being conveyed in a final 
presentation of the latter. Nevertheless, the tendency to replace 
abstract concepts by sensory images, mainly visual, is apparent 
even in the elaboration of imaginative works. The appearance of 
The Red Death in Prince Prospero's palace, intended to represent 
the invading epidemic, is depicted by the entrance of a masked, 
blood-spattered, human form which strikingly and, visually, char- 
acterizes the plague's symptoms. The Angel of the Odd also, in its 
way, "visualizes" unconscious memories of the real fluid nourish- 
ment the child absorbed from its mother. Also, by a process of 
condensation which we shall soon meet again, the story similarly 
"visualizes" the wish for other imagined excreted bodily foods 
which the child, later, wished to receive from the father who, then, 
had become the love object. One of the substitutes, later, for this 
food, in the unconscious, is drinking with bosom cronies. All this, 
which could not be said directly, is visually expressed by the 
Angel's appearance — a creature composed of bottles and kegs of 
nourishing fluids, which it lavishes on the narrator while belabor- 
ing him with blows. Thus it recalls Poe's upbringing by John Allan. 
In Metzengerstein, the son's incestuous union with the mother is 
magnificently visualized in the rider's mad rush while glued to his 
inseparable, symbolic charger. In The Descent into the Maelstrom, 
the return to the womb has all the immensity of a vertiginous 
plunge into the ocean's yawning chasm. Similar examples of in- 
tensely visualized displacements can be endlessly found, and de- 
scribed, in Poe's tales. 

But here we shall pause to turn to another problem, observing 
that, of the four kinds of displacement mentioned as needed to 

Poe and the Function of Literature 63 

fulfill the regard for representability, three are direct representa- 
tions of the human body or certain of its parts. 

May not, also, the first example, the plague figured as The 
Masque of the Red Death, be traced back to a human prototype? 
For the masker who sows the pestilence or Red Death is, as we 
saw, identical with the murdered Oedipal father who, by the talion 
law returns, in his turn, to become the slayer. 

The other displacements with which we first dealt, resulting 
from the behests of the moral censor, also mostly end by represent- 
ing human beings in one shape or other. These generally human 
symbols, invariably derived from the human body, we have 
throughout found enlisted in the service of the displacement mech- 
anism made necessary by the moral censor. 

To the reader, our analyses may at times have seemed overmuch 
to stress these symbolic devices which, monotonously, bring every- 
thing in the universe back to the same human prototypes — father, 
mother, child, our members and organs and, in particular, the 
genitals. The fault, however, is not ours. We cannot help it that the 
unconscious monotonously reiterates certain themes, governed as it 
is by our most primitive memories and our most archaic instincts. 

Now, of the two great instincts that govern our lives, hunger and 
love, hunger is much the less psychological, doubtless because the 
nutritive instinct is only in slight degree "compressible." He who 
eats not, dies! This imperative instinct thus demands to be more or 
less satisfied and, as a result, has small opportunity to provide 
psychic substitutes for itself. But what turns the libidinal instinct, 
the libido, into the psychological instinct in excelsis, that whose 
derivatives and substitutes engage the whole psyche, is not only its 
compressibility (man, at need, may live without direct satisfaction 
of his erotism) but doubtless, also, the biological fact that the 
libido, like the psyche, stands in a specially close relation to the 
nervous system. So closely interwoven is the erotic instinct, and its 
dynamics, with other aspects of the psyche, that they seem quite 
impossible to separate out, as we see from that universal phenom- 
enon sublimation, on which all our civilizations have been raised. 

The initial autoerotism of the nursling, with its diffused seekings 
for gratification, eventually enters a narcissistic phase where the 


child takes itself as its first love object. In this phase, the child does 
not as yet distinguish its own body from the breast which suckles 
it, nor from the mother's soft, warm body; only later does the 
mother become its first awareness of the outer world. By degrees 
its father, brothers and sisters, then the outer world, materialize 
behind the mother and, under the growing pressure of reality, be- 
come accepted by the child. The unconscious, however, finds means 
to revenge itself for thus being robbed of its omnipotence and 
the outer world, which destroys our primary, narcissistic illusions 
is, in its turn, narcissised by the unconscious. In this process, the 
child, ontogenetically similar here to our remote ancestors, passes 
through an animistic stage whose symbols still rule our souls, 
whether we be primitives or highly civilized; symbols which, doubt- 
less, are its ineradicable vestige. 

Thus it is that symbols for the body, the mother and father, their 
genitals and ours, throng the unconscious and are projected into 
whatever the psyche produces, whether we sleep or wake. For, as 
instances from every domain of the spirit show: 

we need not assume that any special symbolizing activity of the 
psyche is operative in dream-formation; ... on the contrary, the 
dream makes use of such symbolizations as are to be found 
ready-made in unconscious thinking, since these, by reason of 
their ease of representation, and for the most part by reason of 
their being exempt from the censorship, satisfy more effectively 
the requirements of dream-formation. 3 

Symbols succeed in satisfying both the conditions required for dis- 
placement; namely, the demands of morality and concreteness. 
Thus, we find they abound in mythology, art, and religion as, also, 
in dreams. 

Poe's opus which, in any case, comes as near to the dream as is 
possible for any successfully conceived conscious production, is 
found to be especially rich in symbols; these help to instill that 
intense and visual eloquence which communicates direct from the 
unconscious of one individual to that of another. 

Contrary to displacement, condensation, that other primary 
mechanism in the elaboration of dreams, appears to be less active 

Poe and the Function of Literature 65 

in the elaboration of literary works than of dreams. In particular, 
it is responsible far less often for those nonsensical products, that 
seem to defy all logic, which we know as nonsense dreams: prod- 
ucts resulting from drastic condensation of convergent and, even, 
divergent thoughts. That difference, doubtless, inheres in the fact 
that literary creation is the product of the waking psyche. When 
we are awake, preconscious and conscious thoughts dominate, with 
their strivings for logic, and the unconscious is deeply buried. It is 
only, however, in the unconscious that condensation takes place. 
The unconscious, alone, is the crucible into which the precon- 
scious thoughts, once they have sunk there, automatically, as it 
were, form those strange and at times ridiculous amalgams we 
know as "condensations." It need not surprise us, therefore, to find 
that Poe's tales, though at times so similar to dream products, 
show less condensation than our dreams. 

Condensation appears when, despite the conscious thought of 
the tale, deep unconscious processes are at work. Poe's women, 
with their "supernatural aura" were, as we saw, condensations of 
many of the women he loved: Berenice, Madeline and Eleonora, 
especially, reveal characteristics of Virginia his small cousin, as 
much as of his mother Elizabeth. The Marchesa Aphrodite, in The 
Assignation, with her "statuelike" figure, condenses Mrs. Stanard, 
Elmira, Frances Allan and Elizabeth Arnold. The Marchese Men- 
toni, that grim avenger on his palace steps, recalls Judge Stanard 
and John Allan. Furthermore, the old man in The Tell-Tale Heart 
was shown to condense David Poe, his supposititious successor in 
Elizabeth's affections and, also, John Allan. Many such instances 
could be given, were we to seek out, in Poe's works, all those com- 
posite figures which — by overdetermination, condensation and the 
fusion of many people's attributes into one — result in a general 
underlining of certain characteristics and, so, in the creation of 
those intense, almost mythical paternal or maternal figures which 
so strongly affect our minds. In effect, the purpose condensation 
fulfills is to produce affects more intense than those found in our 
latent thoughts, to which end it picks up and concentrates the 
scattered preconscious thoughts as they sink into the unconscious. 

Suffice it if we again recall the figure that seems to come at the 


end of our scale, that of The Angel of the Odd, which condenses 
the father concept (John Allan and his whippings), the mother 
(bottle = breasts), and milk (alcohol) as well as various bodily 
secretions, female or male (again alcohol). 

Passing to other types of condensation we find that, though the 
Marchesa Aphrodite and Poe's other composite figures are built up 
after "the method employed by Galton in producing family por- 
traits" — by superimposing family likenesses one on another, "so 
that the common features stand out in stronger relief, while those 
which do not coincide neutralize one another and become indis- 
tinct," 4 condensation may also create hippogriffs and chimeras. 
The fantastic Tekeli-li in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, by 
its cat's head reminds us of the mother and her genitals and, by 
its whiteness, of her milk. By its scarlet teeth and claws it also re- 
minds us of the cannibal wishes which develop in the child with 
its growing teeth, and of the talion for its guilty wishes which the 
child imagines may be exacted by her teeth, or even vagina, in 
punishment not, now, for its cannibal wishes but for its incestuous 
desires. As to the long and prominent rat's tail, that doubtless is an 
offshoot of the penis which the child originally attributes to the 
mother, while the doglike ears of the strange "cat" are perhaps bor- 
rowed from Tiger, Pym's dog, with its mother characteristics. 

Again, a single manifest element may represent several which 
remain latent: Mr. Lacko 'breath's lost breath, for instance, repre- 
sents both creative male potency and intestinal flatus. In The Gold 
Bug, the treasure is strongly overdetermined and represents several 
hidden and implied sets of ideas. First, all the phantasies of real 
wealth which occupied Poe as the son of poor strolling players 
and, later, as the disinherited "son" of John Allan, reflect them- 
selves in Captain Kidd's dazzling treasure. But beneath its super- 
ficial glamour, deep and unconscious drives lend power and con- 
viction to the treasure theme. The unconscious memory of little 
Rosalie, born shortly before he visited the Carolina coast for the 
first time with his mother, and his ruminations on her birth, are 
what unconsciously inspire Legrand's inductions. As for the buried 
treasure they reveal, this emerges as a substitute for the infant 
sister whose sojourn in his mother's womb he had guessed. 

Poe and the Function of Literature 67 

The treasure itself, with its gold and precious stones, we saw 
revealed as symbols of the child's first "gifts"; the feces which, in 
return for his own "generosity" in yielding his, she will exchange 
for a similar gift. We may recall in this connection the symbolic 
maternal animals which in Peau d'Ane and so many other legends, 
excrete gold in place of feces. So too, it was from Frances Allan 
that Edgar desired these anal gifts, gifts expressed in The Gold Bug 
in the classic, symbolic form of gold and jewels. Yet this gold was 
not Frances', but John Allan's. When Frances heaped luxuries 
on her foster son, it was her husband's wealth which allowed her 
to do so. The child who, at first, had seen only the "mother's" 
generosity, must soon have seen from a dispute, word, or gesture 
that the money she spent came, in fact, from the man. Whence 
the equating of gold with the father's male potency and, so, penis. 

Thus, as a result of factors specific to Poe's childhood and early 
life, the ancient and universal equation feces = gold == child = penis 
declares itself, in this model tale, in the greatly condensed and sole 
theme of treasure. 

Another psychic process however, the opposite, as it were, of 
condensation, even more frequently manifests itself in creative 
writing than in dreams; that by which one individual is split into 

In Morella, Ligeia and Eleonora, the manifest forms of the first 
wives begin as condensations of the images of Elizabeth and Vir- 
ginia; they then however split, to represent, separately, once more 
distinct from each other, the two images originally separate in the 
latent thought of the tale. The process to which we allude is thus 
only apparently at work, for the second act, which restores the 
second Morella, Rowena, or Ermengarde, merely resolves the ear- 
lier condensation. 

In The Black Cat however, we do, in fact, see the mother split 
into several characters: the slayer's wife, Pluto and the second cat 
all reproduce this one prototype. But, as ever in the unconscious, 
the diverse mechanisms involved in psychic elaboration function 
simultaneously. Through displacement, the psychic emphasis that 
belongs to the mother is shifted on the unrecognizable cats or on 


the murderer's anonymous wife. Through condensation, in each of 
these three protagonists, the poet's mother Elizabeth has been 
fused with Virginia his wife and, what is more, has incorporated 
Catterina, Poe's cat, in two of them. 

Also, the mechanism by which one character is split into several 
equally affects their derivatives. The mother, for instance, in whom 
other elements are so fused as to be no longer recognized, is also 
split into three. And each of these mothers has her own character- 
istics, as well as others common to all three. Though all three are 
symbolically castrated, either genitally, or by loss of an eye, thus 
declaring themselves all mothers, there was a time when Pluto had 
perfect eyes, a time of more virility than the second cat ever knew, 
though likewise a male. Thus, the three forms of the mother, in 
the tale, paint the mother from different angles. Pluto is first the 
phallic mother, at the time the small boy really believed in his 
mother's penis. But once Pluto has been symbolically castrated by 
the man, once the mother has been punished for introducing cas- 
tration into the world, as witnessed by her body, the second cat 
appears with the large white splotch on its chest. This second cat 
represents the nursing mother pleading for pardon by her milk, by 
her life-giving breasts in lieu of the penis. Finally, in the murderer's 
wife, we see the mother's original human form emerge from under 
its totemic cat-disguise, in the same way that, with the ancient 
gods, the original form of the father reappears under their primi- 
tive totemic guises. And the double murder, that of the wife after 
Pluto, clearly reveals who, in the first instance, in cat form, was 

As for the father, we see him multiplied rather than subdivided 
in Loss of Breath, in the series of castrating fathers. In The Narra- 
tive of Arthur Gordon Pym, the father is split into the two classic 
categories of good and bad father; on the one hand the good but 
weak captains, Barnard and Guy and, on the other, the rebellious 
mate and Too-wit, both evil but both eventually rendered impotent 
like the wicked grandfather with his futile cane. The only survivor, 
save for Pym, is Peters, himself split off from the author's ego and, 
so to speak, his heroic ego-ideal. 

Nevertheless, the possibilities of such splittings of the father are 

Poe and the Function of Literature 69 

limited: he can never be identified with matter in general; the earth 
and water. Per contra, the mother, as we saw in The Fall of the 
House of Usher, appears doubly determined as Madeline and the 
manor while, in The Black Cat, she appears as the wife, as both 
cats and, again, as the house with its cellar. Again, in The Murders 
in the Rue Morgue she appears both as a woman (the murdered 
old woman) and then as a room which, though all its orifices are 
sealed, is nevertheless forced open. In The Adventures of Arthur 
Gordon Pym, this defusion of the mother's entity possibly reaches 
its highest point, so generally is it attached to all objects for, though 
she is not revealed in her real form save as the white phantom 
which closes the tale, we nevertheless find her split up on every 
page and attached to all objects in nature: the sea and its 
waves, the earth and its streams and chasms, not to mention the 
symbolic ships, the dog Tiger and the Tekeli-li, each of which rep- 
resents the mother, though with varying attributes. 

When defusion attains such proportions, we may wonder, how- 
ever, whether we can still, properly, speak of splitting — a term re- 
served for the splitting between individuals — for this special psychic 
mechanism, like a river confined, then loses itself in the vast and 
general ocean of symbolism. 

The splitting-up of a single personality, moreover, seems far 
more appropriate to serve multiple representations of the ego than 
to depict either father or mother. 

Freud writes, in The Interpretation of Dreams, 

There are also dreams in which my ego appears together with 
other persons who, when the identification is resolved, once more 
show themselves to be my ego. ... I may also give my ego mul- 
tiple representation in my dream, either directly or by means of 
identification with other people. 5 

Again, in The Relation of the Poet to Day-dreaming, he says, 

It has struck me in many so-called psychological novels, too, 
that only one person — once again the hero — is described from 
within; the author dwells in his soul and looks upon the other 
people from outside. The psychological novel in general probably 
owes its peculiarities to the tendency of modern writers to split 
up their ego by self-observation into many component egos, and 


in this way to personify the conflicting trends in their own mental 
life in many heroes. 6 

One can hardly apply the term "psychological novelist" to Poe in 
its literal sense, but in his eminently egocentric productions many 
examples of splitting the ego start to the eye. 

First and foremost, William Wilson. We saw, in analyzing this 
tale, how clearly Poe himself appears in the two William Wilsons; 
one, personifying his deepest instincts, the id, the other his super- 
ego or conscience; this last, derived by introjection from John 
Allan, the father. This instance is almost schematic and the fact 
that the author himself was partly aware of its conscious implica- 
tions lends the tale a certain lack of warmth. Of more significance 
to us, because of the unconscious mechanisms at work, are the fre- 
quent examples where the ego is split in The Murders in the Rue 
Morgue. We have already seen that Dupin, the infallible ratioci- 
nator, is Poe in person, the world decipherer of cryptograms and 
puzzles; a Poe who, in a field apparently purely intellectual, took 
his revenge for the sexual investigations in which, as a child, he 
had failed. But Dupin's friend the narrator, who observes and ad- 
mires the infallible ratiocinator, is once again Poe, this time as 
spectator, from outside, of his own final triumph. It is in the soul 
of this narrator, present in The Mystery of Marie Roget, The Pur- 
loined Letter and The Gold Bug that, as Freud says, the author 
dwells and looks out upon the other characters, father, mother, or 
split-off ego. The sailor, the owner of the orangutan, is Poe again, 
but now the infant present at the parental sex act, sadistically 
conceived. Thus, part of Poe's ego has attached itself to the 
father-figure orangutan in his desire to identify himself with the 
father to whom the mother belongs. But only the merest allusion 
indicates this; the creature's youth. 

Examples of such splittings-off of the ego might be multiplied 
in Poe's tales; a mechanism frequently employed in the representa- 
tion found in creative writing. At its base, moreover, is found 
the displacement which helps to bring this about and, also, to 
achieve the regard for representability of the writer's material. 
Such splittings-off enable specific aspects and qualities of the ego 

Poe and the Function of Literature 71 

to be personified and made concrete and visual. Thus, in The 
Murders in the Rue Morgue, the sailor visually embodies Poe's 
infantile curiosity, Dupin, his eager infantile investigations and the 
narrator his, doubtless, precocious bent toward self-observation. 

So far, we have seen the same classic mechanisms at work, 
more or less, in the elaboration of imaginative literature and 
dreams; condensation, displacement and regard for representabil- 
ity; this last, like the moral censor, using displacement for its 
ends. The splitting of a single latent personality, in particular the 
author's ego, into several manifest characters, was found to be 
one way of obtaining representability , itself controlled by displace- 

When, however, we come to deal with the way in which literary 
creation seeks to express the logical relation of its themes, manifest 
or latent, we naturally expect to find it differ greatly from the 
construction of dreams. Literary creation, being a conscious prod- 
uct, is subject to reason and logic. 

So, indeed, at first sight it appears, for the dream has no obvious 
means by which to represent logical relations, 7 while literature 
may command the whole range of conjunctions and prepositions. 
Thus, imaginative writing seems in general to obey the laws of 
logic and, in many cases, to be coherent to a high degree. Never- 
theless, it must not be forgotten that though, on the surface, a 
literary work relates a manifestly coherent story, intertwined with 
it and, simultaneously, another and secret story is being told 
which, in fact, is the basic theme. Though, therefore, the manifest 
tale normally obeys the rules of logic, this deeper current is subject 
to other laws. 

In this respect the work of art resembles every product of the 
human psyche in which the two great forces which dominate the 
psyche — the preconscious and unconscious proper — are simul- 
taneously at work, though in different degrees. The contradiction 
between the preconscious latent dream thoughts, for instance, co- 
herent and logical as they are, and the alogical incoherence im- 
posed on the same thoughts by the dreamwork once they have 
entered the unconscious, has been emphasized by Freud. 8 This 


same contradition is found in creative writing and the degree in 
which the latent thought, itself coherent, appears incoherent and 
illogical, will depend on how nearly the work approaches the 
dream. Poe's works, in effect, fall into that category of literature 
which presents dream and nightmare characteristics in high degree. 
It need not therefore, at times, surprise us to see some loosening 
of the surface logic reveal the deeper alogical unconscious structure 
and the strange representations employed. 

In Ligeia, for instance, the latent preconscious content of the 
tale seeks to express the theme : "Because I continue fixated to my 
mother, I cannot love another woman." But before these precon- 
scious thoughts could be represented, they had to sink with the 
unconscious where, as a result of the infantile, archaic desire with 
which they were linked — that of re-finding the mother who forever 
dwells there — they acquired the power to emerge in the imagery 
of art. Thereafter, exactly as with dreams and their hallucinatory 
processes, the logical relation between two terms will only be ex- 
pressed representationally, as in the substitution of the ghostly 
Ligeia's image for that of the dead Rowena. "It is because I am 
always there," the mother seems to be saying, "that it is as though 
other women did not exist for you." This is as though Poe himself 
were to declare: "Because I am still fixated on my mother, I can- 
not love another woman." Here, literature uses one of the dream's 
classic devices, the substitution of one person for another to ex- 
press a causal relation. "Causation," says Freud, "is represented 
by succession, sometimes by the succession of dreams, sometimes 
by the immediate transformation of one image into another." 9 
Thus Rowena- Virginia turns into Ligeia-Elizabeth; thus the first 
Berenice, the little cousin, at first dark of complexion and glowing 
with health, almost as suddenly, in the library, is metamorphosed 
into the corpselike Berenice, whose haunting teeth and yellow hair 
recall the nightmare "Life-in-Death" of the Ancient Mariner. In 
both cases, the transformation is intended to express the same 
causal relation, the same ban upon women which his mother 
fixation imposed on Poe. It is meant to express the same because. 

In this passage from The Interpretation of Dreams which we 
have quoted, Freud shows how, in dreams, causation may also be 

Poe and the Function of Literature 73 

expressed by succession in the different parts of the dream, the 
former and shorter portion being, as it were, the prologue to the 
main dream. May we not see an example of this type of causal 
representation in The Murders in the Rue Morgue? Let us recall 
the episode concerning Chantilly which so arbitrarily, it seems, 
appears to precede the history of the ape's crime. There Dupin, 
from various clues, guesses the train of thought which, at that 
moment, has led his friend to think of the actor and, from the 
narrator's thoughts, evokes the ridiculous Chantilly. Earlier, how- 
ever, we identified Chantilly as the second-rate player David Poe, 
Edgar's father. Thus, disguised as Chantilly, David Poe is repre- 
sented to us as, in all respects, impotent. Immediately afterwards, 
without transition, there follows the tale of the crime whose vic- 
tims were Mme. L'Espanaye and her daughter. The deep logical 
and causal relation between these portions of the tale, one being 
but the prologue to the other, seems thus suppressed; the only 
apparent link between them is the ingenuity Dupin displays in 
both instances. 

Here, succession, once more, doubtless represents the causal 
relation. What needs inserting between the incident regarding 
Chantilly and the crime of the orangutan is, again, a because! 
Poe's preconscious thoughts, sinking into the unconscious and los- 
ing their stiffening of logic, must have been something like this: 
"Because father David was impotent my mother yielded to the 
mighty X. . . ." As we say, the ape doubtless represented that un- 
known lover, and the riddle set by the crime in the Rue Morgue 
was, doubtless, displaced from the riddle set the child Poe by the 
dubious fatherhood of his sister Rosalie. 

The Murders in the Rue Morgue provides other interesting in- 
stances of thoughts similarly presented piecemeal, though coherent 
enough in their latent content and manifest expression; coherent, 
that is, though in different ways, at the origin and end-point of 
the elaborative process. 

What, indeed, could be more rational, seemingly, than the pic- 
ture of an old lady living in her room? Yet as we saw, the old 
woman, like the room, represents one and the same person in 


the story's latent content; i.e., the mother, although it would seem 
absurd that someone inhabit herself. 

Contradictions, however, never disturb the unconscious and jux- 
taposition, and even superimposition of different elements, is only 
one of the ways it expresses an actual relation between them. 
The room, so generally a woman symbol, here represents, given its 
hollowness, the female genitals, into which the ape enters after 
forcing (violating) the window. We then get a reversal frequent 
in the unconscious, a turning inside out, with the contents substi- 
tuted for the receptacle. The woman is then represented as inside 
this cloaca which, in effect, is inside her; at the same time its 
dimensions are greatly magnified, as though to throw into relief 
what was most stressed, psychically, in the author's preconscious; 
the woman's genitals rather than the woman. 

Again, the cloaca reappears, in the same contest, as the chim- 
ney into which Mile. L'Espanaye's body is thrust. The mother is 
thus thrice represented; once in her human form and, twice, as an 
aperture in a building. But it is not the same cloaca that is thus 
twice represented for, while the room represents the violated 
cloaca — as the headless old lady represents the castrated mother — 
the chimney represents the pregnant cloaca. Mile. L'Espanaye here, 
as it were, is the fetus, conceived via the phallic-arm of the mighty 

Here we see the process of isolation in operation, a mechanism 
which separately represents each idea of a given context and each 
incident of one representation, linked only by juxtaposition or 
superimposition. Only in the preconscious do time and space ap- 
pear. The juxtapositions and superimpositions which result from 
the treatment to which the latent thoughts are subjected in the 
unconscious, per contra, are heedless of both logic and contradic- 
tions, as of time and place; thus, they express themselves in ways 
that seem absurd, if we relate them to the story's hidden content. 
However, these absurdities disappear in the manifest tale, for it is 
nowise absurd that an old lady lives in a room, nor that that room 
should have a chimney; it is even possible, at need, for an ape 
to perform everything with which it is credited in these murders 
in the Rue Morgue. But again, the deeper preconscious thoughts 

Poe and the Function of Literature 75 

which inspire the tale and succeed in achieving expression via the 
strange elaborative mechanisms described are also, in their way, 
entirely coherent. One might formulate them thus: So my mother 
was the victim of a man's {the suppositious lover's) aggression. He 
forced his way into her genitals and there, with his mighty penis, 
implanted my sister. 

We shall now observe the manner in which the unconscious 
treats such forms of conscious and logical thought as compose 
negation, contrariety and identity. 

Latent and preconscious dream thoughts which involve contra- 
diction or opposition, once they have passed into the unconscious, 
lose their power to express these relations directly since, for the 
unconscious, negation does not exist. Also, in creative writing (as 
in the creation of neurotic symptoms) whenever, within the un- 
conscious, some profound unconscious infantile wish attracts a 
train of preconscious thoughts — and subjects them to the opera- 
tions of the unconscious — such thoughts are found to be stripped 
of their negative aspect when they reappear in the conscious con- 

One example of this process may be seen in the hanging themes 
in Loss of Breath and The Black Cat where, in both cases, the 
victim represents the penis. The hanged man thus represents the 
rephallization of one who is genitally impotent. In the former, 
it is the author himself as Mr. Lacko'breath; in the latter, the 
mother in shape of the cat. The hanged man or animal all the 
more readily represents the phallus, in that it is popularly thought 
that hanging is accompanied by erection in extremis. But, from an- 
other angle, the fact that the body hangs makes it, again, represent 
incapacity to achieve erection and, thus, the very negation of po- 
tency. In this hanging theme, therefore, we find two diametrically 
opposed ideas condensed; virility and its negation. 

Here we are reminded that many languages, in the remote past, 
attached opposite meanings to one and the same word. Ancient 
Egyptian offers many examples of this and modern languages, also, 
retain traces of the same primitive way of condensing contraries 
in a single form, thus associating them by contrast. 10 Both literature 


and dreams take full advantage of this mechanism already present 
in the unconscious. In Loss of Breath and The Black Cat, how- 
ever, it seems introduced as a way of expressing deep irony. For 
though, true enough, hanging the wife or woman, or again the 
impotent man, on the one hand expresses the phantasy wish: 
"Were it but otherwise!" on the other, owing to the mechanism 
of representation by contraries also included here, a mechanism 
which expresses derision in excelsis, this reattribution of the phal- 
lus to Mr. Lacko'breath and the Black Cat is something like 
adorning a cuckolded husband with horns; a mighty but derisive 
phallic symbol. 11 

So, too, with the eternal wandering to which the guilty father is 
condemned. The Man of the Crowd, the Wandering Jew, the Fly- 
ing Dutchman and the Wild Huntsman, all, by contrariety, namely 
immortality, represent their death and the son's deep wish for that 

As for cases where the manifest content of a tale shows the real 
situation reversed and opposite, these may serve, as in dreams, 
to express the wish for a similar reversal of the situation and the 
unconscious wish: "If only it were the other way round!" The best 
example of this in Poe is when M. Valdemar is hypnotized in 
articulo mortis. Here, Valdemar or Valdemar-Griswold-the-Father 
is represented as utterly and passively subject to the son, who 
only keeps him alive the better to kill him; whereas, in reality, it 
was Poe who was passive toward the father. 

Thus the tale, through its imagery, almost openly expresses its 
unconscious intent. The fusion of many individuals into one per- 
sonage, which thus produces a composite image as, for instance, 
that of the Marchesa Aphrodite in which Mrs. Stanard, Frances 
Allan, Elmira Royster and Elizabeth Arnold are all condensed, 
similarly expresses and represents the underlying identity which 
links these different individuals in the writer's psyche. Indeed, 
owing to its predilection for condensation, the unconscious seems 
better fitted to express identity than other relations. 

What of tales such as The Assignation and its absurdities, even 
in the manifest content? It will be recalled that the Marchesa 

Poe and the Function of Literature 77 

Aphrodite — in such despair when her babe falls into the canal 
and in such delight when the "stranger," her lover, restores it to 
her — decides, in gratitude, to die with the rescuer next morning, 
at the same hour, though not in the same place. This is manifestly 
absurd, for the Marchesa would thus abandon her passionately 
loved babe to her husband, the stern old Marchese, as no Niobe, 
as she first seemed, would ever have done. A second absurdity also 
strikes us for, in rescuing the infant, the stranger plunges into 
the canal wrapped in a heavy cloak. Yet, as we saw when analyz- 
ing this tale, these apparent absurdities are only the distorted 
expression of a perfectly coherent criticism by the preconscious. 
For, in the unconscious, the stranger's rescue of the drowning child 
was equated with his giving her a child. The stranger, however, 
represents Poe, as the Marchesa represents his mother. Thus, this 
absurdity in the manifest content, in its way, expresses the follow- 
ing pronouncement in the latent content: "It is absurd to think 
I could have had a child by my mother. We can never be united 
except in death." So strong, indeed, is the incest prohibition that 
even though they die at the same moment, the lovers cannot die 
in the same place. 

This way of expressing criticism is often encountered in dreams 
and we see that it is also to be found in literature. In dreams, it 
appears independent of the criticism and conscious judgments 
which may be expressed in the literary product composed, as that 
is, in the waking state. 

However, we must certainly not think that every coherent train 
of thought in creative writing — especially in Poe's tales — has its 
validity. We must not, for instance, allow ourselves to be dazzled 
by the ratiocination which marks the opening of The Murders in 
the Rue Morgue in connection with exactly how much ingenuity 
is needed for chess or mathematics or the analytic function, that 
superior faculty which, by sure and subtle observation, permits us 
to guess the thoughts, feelings and acts of others. True, there is 
here a conscious echo (only partly true, however, for chess has 
nothing to do with mathematics) of the two main divisions of 
mind; the geometric faculty and the faculty of discrimination. 12 
Predominantly, however, the echo is of something very different, 


namely memories of the small Edgar's infantile sexual investiga- 
tions. For this highly developed analytical faculty which he attrib- 
utes to Dupin would, indeed, have been necessary to the child 
he then was, in order to solve the mysterious feelings and acts of 
adults. Strive as his childish curiosity might, that secret eluded him. 
It is the memory of this, to some extent, unsatisfied sex curiosity, 
which is here compensated by the triumphs of Dupin the ratioci- 

Thus we see that the "ratiocinations" scattered through Poe's 
works are not to be taken at their face value and that even his 
passion for cryptography, shared with Legrand, may represent 
something different. We may conclude, therefore, that reasoning in 
literature, as in life, may be traversed by unconscious memories 
very remote from what reason, apparently, dictates. 

What happens, respectively, to feeling, affect as we say, in 
dreams and literature? About dreams, psychoanalysis tells us that 
"the ideational contents have undergone displacements and substi- 
tutions, while the affects have remained unchanged." 13 Thus, 
dreams whose manifest content should imply terror may, neverthe- 
less, totally lack that affect should the latent dream thoughts, 
displaced on this part of the dream, in themselves be pleasurable. 
For example, Freud cites a woman's dream of three lions advanc- 
ing upon her in which she had no feeling of fear. And with good 
reason for, actually, the lions represented her charming father, 
who had a manelike beard, her English teacher, Miss Lyons, and 
the composer, Loewe, who had just made her a present of some 
ballads. Contrariwise, some particular element in the manifest 
dream, apparently unimportant, may release a powerful affect 
if the latent thoughts it represents were originally invested with 
such affect. Affect would thus appear to be a constant but trans- 
ferable (labile) emotional charge, able freely to displace itself 
along the dream's associative paths without loss of original in- 

In other cases, however, the affect seems to expend itself in this 
process. Should the latent thought be powerfully charged with 
emotion the manifest dream will lack affect. (The converse, how- 

Poe and the Function of Literature 79 

ever, never happens.) This is because conflicting affects have 
neutralized each other, producing what Freud calls "peace after 

Another way in which affect is dealt with in the latent thoughts 
causes reversal of the latter into their contraries. The law of asso- 
ciation by contraries provides an ample basis for this mechanism, 
one which is much employed by the moral censor as, also, by our 
wishes. Thus affects, which seem morally objectionable to us, 
may be transformed into their opposites, as may painful affects 
into pleasant. 

Rather than adduce instances of dreams illustrating these vari- 
ous mechanisms, I refer the reader" to the chapter in The Inter- 
pretation of Dreams from which I have quoted. I shall confine 
myself to demonstrating that these mechanisms may be found in 
literature and in Poe. 

Loss of Breath provides a typical instance of reversed affect. 
What more tragic, indeed, for one who is impotent than the loss 
of potency? Yet Poe's story, in which this confession of impotence 
is made, is saturated with buffoonish affect. At times, this buffoon- 
ery rings false and the basic and tragic affect manages to pierce 

Again, the affect of great sadness doubtless experienced by Poe 
in connection with his addiction to alcohol, with all the profound 
infantile fixations and frustrated primal loves that covered, under- 
goes the same reversal into its opposite in The Angel of the Odd, 
a tale also intentionally buffoonish and extravagant, and far more 
successfully than Loss of Breath. In general, all Poe's tales, in- 
tended by him as burlesques, have similar foundations; a tragic 
affect, by reversal, is converted into its opposite and comic affect. 
As it happens, however, these reversals are never wholly suc- 
cessful; Poe's laughter is anything but contagious; it is always a 
ghastly grin. 

Per contra, that other mechanism, the apparent suppression of 
affect, is dealt with successfully in The Mystery of Marie Roget, 
though to the prejudice of the dramatic effect. Possibly, this is 
because it is Poe's only tale in which the theme is manifestly sexual. 
Here, that mighty adversary, instinct, has thrown aside its dis- 


guise, whereupon all the forces of the moral censor draw up in 
line; the result is that a too equally matched struggle ensues and, 
as a result, that "peace after battle" which we have already noted. 
Thus, this story of the raped and strangled scent-shop assistant 
leaves us indifferent whereas, in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, 
we are moved to the depths by gripping instinctual affects which 
have succeeded in evading the censor in the simian or other dis- 
guises they were able to adopt. 

Possibly why certain works leave us cold when, to the author, 
they seem full of fire and inspiration, is because a similar conflict 
between opposed affects has neutralized them out. 

Nevertheless, the process to which affects are subjected, that 
which we meet most generally in Poe, especially in his finest stories, 
is of a wholly different order. In dreams and their elaboration, we 
regularly find that the unconscious affects, originally bound to 
significant but repressed representations, are transferred to repre- 
sentations which have generally arisen during the foregoing day. 
Often, it is as though their very unimportance determined the 
selection of the recent representations to which such affects are 
transferred, a phenomenon which, for ages, has attracted the no- 
tice of those interested in dreams. Freud has demonstrated that 
such a choice, in fact, appears to be determined by the moral 
censor, in order that the latent meaning of the dream be concealed. 
Nonetheless, what remains of the day's experiences and links up 
with our earliest, strongest and most repressed wishes, must con- 
ceal some associative bond with the deeper desires which are seek- 
ing expression. 

In Poe's works, as doubtless in creative art generally — where 
the artist's purpose is, as it were, to instill his own unconscious 
affect into the unconscious of his audience or, more exactly, to 
make both unconsciouses vibrate as one — what is of prime im- 
portance is that, as perceived, this transposition should be as close 
as possible, in affect, to the degree of affect it is intended to pass 
on. A massing of affects then takes place, a massing utilized by 
the censor to distribute affect as it will. No instance better reveals 
this mechanism than The Pit and the Pendulum, where the deep 
and unconscious affects which are to enter the very unconscious 

Poe and the Function of Literature 81 

of the reader are, in effect, linked with representations of an 
especially infantile and deeply repressed nature; wish-phantasies to 
possess the mother in intra-cloacal fashion and passive homo- 
sexual wish-phantasies toward the father. All this, the inner in- 
spiration of the tale and doubtless its original source, could never 
be conveyed, unchanged, to the reader since, far from pleasing 
him, his own repressions would cause him to shrink as, doubtless, 
many of our readers have already shrunk from our interpretations. 
Thus, the censor demands a displacement, but the process or in- 
stance, to which we shall later revert, which in our half-waking 
dreams determines the secondary elaboration of the dream and 
which, during the day, merges with our preconscious waking 
thoughts, this instance determines a displacement on objects en- 
dowed with affects analogous to the profound affect it is intended 
to release. These new manifest representations will still betray, to 
those with eyes to see, the deeper and original underlying repre- 
sentations; the phallic swinging pendulum and the cloacal pit. But 
the mighty and primal wish-affects bound up with these repre- 
sentations, once they have been repressed, cannot again emerge 
save as painfully charged anxiety. Thereupon, the wished-for pen- 
dulum, and the longed-for pit, must themselves be invested with 
anxiety and must convey terror. In this manner, affect is piled-up 
with maximum effect and the manifest content of the tale will 
contain a sort of preliminary premium of anxiety to serve as the 
magnet to draw out and explode the deep, unconscious anxiety 
thus liberated. Meanwhile, the censor's behest is also obeyed and 
carried out, for the reader may think that the terror, released by 
the tale, is merely what anyone would feel in the cells of the 

A certain analogy may be noted here with what happens in the 
formation of many neurotic symptoms. The phobia of fearing to 
cross streets because of automobiles, for instance, is rational in 
part, since motorcars kill people. People with this phobia thus 
manage to justify themselves as regards their affect. But the 
quantity of this affect is not justified by the manifest representa- 
tion of such a problematic disaster, and can only be explained by 


overdetermined affect, resulting from affects which have re-emerged 
from deep and hidden sources in the unconscious. 

The overwhelming anxiety with which all Poe's greatest tales 
are charged issues exclusively from this source. In each instance 
the preconscious selects a manifest representation associated with 
painful affect, as a result of which preliminary premium of anxiety, 
the underlying unconscious anxiety can be discharged. In such 
manner were liberated the mighty affects we feel, for instance, in 
Berenice, Ligeia, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Murders 
in the Rue Morgue, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Black Cat. 

Of the last and remaining factor in dream formation, secondary 
elaboration, we may say that, in creative writing, it is entirely 
merged with the processes of preconscious waking thought and 
that a derivative process is the more or less wakeful residue of the 
day's thoughts, active in dreams. It is this secondary elaboration 
which, in dreams, when the opportunity offers, corrects too fla- 
grant absurdities and establishes a new and manifest coherence 
between the latent and scattered thoughts which often differs 
greatly from their original latent coherence: in short, it subjects 
the dream to the censorship of logic and criticism. As regards the 
inner coherence, however, of literary works, this is established by 
the waking preconscious thoughts which select or reject the ele- 
ments suggested in the primary unconscious elaboration of the 
latent thoughts, eliminate what is too absurd or shocking and set 
up new logical connections between what is kept. In short, they 
are incessantly at work criticizing and constructing in order to 
fit, to our most deeply repressed desires, that conscious, logical 
and aesthetic facade which we call creative writing and which, it 
must never be forgotten, generally presents itself with a coherence 
very different from that which prevails in the preconscious and 
primitive thoughts which inspire works of art. 

Nevertheless, despite the essential differences which mark off 
literary, from dream, creation — the lesser mental and psychic re- 
gression which materializes even the most abstract thought as 
hallucination; the egotism, so far better masked than in dreams; 

Poe and the Function of Literature 83 

the aesthetic pleasure-premium which allows repressed desires to 
manifest themselves with impunity and with equal impunity be 
experienced by others — despite these differences which make cre- 
ative writing, contrary to the dream, a social product which all 
may share, dreams and art fulfill an analogous function as regards 
the human psyche. Both, in fact, act as safety valves to humanity's 
overrepressed instincts. 

At night, when sleep commands immobility, we can dream with 
impunity, to others or ourselves, of all we covet and are refused 
by life; murder even, or incest. During the day, we can also 
abandon ourselves to our daydreams and be similarly immobile, 
thus inhibiting our dangerous motor activities. But there are men 
with a mysterious gift who can clothe these daydreams and Active 
instinctual gratifications in forms which allow others, also, to 
dream their dreams with them. How this is done, and what is the 
nature of the pleasure-premium of form and beauty which draws 
their fellows, is an aesthetic problem still unsolved. Nor has psy- 
choanalysis really succeeded in explaining it, despite the depths to 
which it has probed the psyche. Freud merely asks us to note that 
aesthetic feeling seems related to erotic emotion, though subli- 
mated, it is true. 14 This, Plato had already divined in the Phaedrus, 
where the love of beautiful youths was suggested as the first step 
to love of the Beautiful. 

Meanwhile, psychoanalysis has taught us that, throughout our 
lives, emotively and in disguised ways we repeat the affective ex- 
periences of our childhood. The artist, who creates beauty, is no 
less subject to this law and, possibly, is even more so than others, 
due to his essentially narcissistic make-up. We may therefore well 
assume that his particular aesthetic will be colored by his first love 
relations. Since, for all human beings the first love object was the 
nurturer or mother, it will not surprise us to observe that the 
aesthetic ideal of an artist presenting necrophilist features, such 
as Poe, for instance, wears the hues of the mother's death. In 
the most literal sense, all beauty, for Poe, whether in woman or 
nature, in faces or scenes, was "drawn from the cheeks" of the 
cherished and dying mother. 

We agreed that there are artists whose aesthetic ideal appears 


less directly derived from the concrete qualities of an infantile love 
object; artists with whom we could not thus hark back to the 
source. Nor need the mother, indeed, be the only origin of the 
artist's aesthetic ideal. The love which every child, at some time 
or other, feels for the father, must contribute distinctively mascu- 
line and active characteristics to any aesthetic ideal, as we find 
also in Poe. 

Nor must we forget the further fact that all love feeling is dual, 
and comprises the loved object and loving subject. Earlier, we 
dealt with the qualities the artist's aesthetic ideal borrowed from 
his infancy's love objects. But there are also differences in the 
manner in which people love; differences conditioned by constitu- 
tion, heredity and infantile happenings which modify the develop- 
ing libido and by the greater, or less, congenital strength of one 
or other libidinal factors such as sadism, voyeurism and the rest. 
We must therefore distinguish between the kind of aesthetic emo- 
tion in a given artist, and the nature of his aesthetic ideal. 

Clearly, the former is least accessible to our enquiries as con- 
taining factors impossible to trace; factors such as the original 
strength of the libido and its diverse elements and their greater, 
or less, resistance or plasticity to educative pressure and their 
greater, or less, capacity for sublimation: in short, all those hered- 
itary and constitutional biological and sexual factors before which 
psychoanalytic investigation must, perforce, halt. 

Nevertheless, whatever the artist's primary make-up and how- 
ever the form of his aesthetic — that glittering veil which he wraps 
about his and our own deepest instincts, instincts which his con- 
temporaries would often condemn — the elaboration, like the func- 
tion of the work of art, is always the same. 

With the elaboration-mechanisms in creative writing we have 
already dealt at length. Their function, as we have shown, is that 
of a safety valve for our overrepressed instincts. It now remains 
for us to show, with Poe as our example, that this safety valve 
operates under waking conditions exactly as do dreams in respect 
to our instincts. 

To that end, we once more revert to Freud's famous comparison 

Poe and the Function of Literature 85 

dealing with dream formation. Recent events in the sleeper's life — 
the so-called residue of the day — may be likened to the entre- 
preneur of economic theory. But the entrepreneur can accomplish 
nothing without capital! The capital of the dream is furnished by 
the ancient, archaic, infantile wishes reactivated by the happenings 
of the day, for these last, even when most vivid in consciousness, 
of themselves would be unable to activate the dream activity. The 
genesis of works of art may be similarly described. 

Whereas, in many of Poe's tales, the elements in this partner- 
ship perforce elude us, in so far as concerns the factors which 
inspired the creative process, in others it stands clearly revealed. 

From the available evidence, it would seem clear that Berenice, 
Morella and Ligeia came into being as a result of the carnal temp- 
tations experienced by Poe at finding himself near to his young 
cousin Virginia, when first staying with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm. 
Another man, however, might have seen Virginia without wishing 
to marry her, or being inspired to write Berenice or Ligeia. Vir- 
ginia here, therefore, represents the entrepreneur, but the capital 
for the undertaking could only have been furnished by Poe's rich 
store of buried sadistic, necrophilism infantile memories which, 
with his mother's corpse, lurked deep in his unconscious. 

So, too, with The Black Cat. The residual material of the day, 
in this nightmare tale, came from his family life with the dying 
Virginia. Was not Catterina, the cat, her constant companion in 
their cottage? When, in winter, they lacked fuel and the poor, 
weak, blood-spitting consumptive was forced to remain in bed, 
would not the cat curl on her bosom as if to warm her? Never- 
theless, touching and pitiful though this was, it would never have 
inspired The Black Cat, had not the treasure of stored-up, ancient, 
sadistic urges bound, in Poe's unconscious, with his dead or dying 
mother, been stored up already in his soul to furnish the Virginia- 
Catterina enterprise with that once amassed capital. 

The actual impetus to write The Gold Bug was doubtless com- 
municated to Poe by his poverty, and the wish to change it for 
something better. Did he not, in fact, write it to compete for a 
prize of $100, a competition in which he was successful? Yet all 
his real desires for riches would never have lent such glamour to 


Captain Kidd's treasure but for its latent meaning, one so inti- 
mately bound with his deepest, most primitive, instincts. For, be- 
yond the memory of Frances Allan and her motherly generosity, 
there still lay the mystery surrounding the birth of Rosalie who, 
as a babe, had accompanied him, and their mother, to the very 
shores where Kidd once buried his treasure. 

Thus, works of art, like dreams, reveal themselves as phantom 
presences which tower over our lives, with one foot in the past 
and one in the present. The phantom's face, however, turns to the 
future, due to the sovereign wish it embodies; a wish which in- 
spires our every activity. That is why dreams, at times, seem pro- 
phetic; namely, when our more or less unconscious efforts succeed 
in achieving the wish they express. But, since such wishes are still 
more generally condemned by our consciences than externally 
thwarted, few of our dreams, indeed, come to pass! The same pro- 
hibitions are at work in art. Though The Gold Bug may have won 
Poe $100 and, next to The Raven, his greatest success, he would 
never, in fact, be able to gratify the murderous, sadistic urges he 
expresses in The Black Cat. Nevertheless, by choosing an obvi- 
ously consumptive girl for his wife, the dreamer-necrophilist Poe 
found means to stage the sadistic drama, for himself, of an agoniz- 
ing death like that he had watched so breathlessly as a child. Thus 
his heroines, Berenice, Morella, Ligeia, Madeline and Eleanora, 
seem prophetically to anticipate his own adored wife's fate. 

Edgar Allan Poe, doubtless, had never any clear realization of 
the memories he thus immortalized in his works, nor of the fearful 
nature of his own sexuality. True, he did, at times, say he was 
haunted by a "terrible mystery" but, what that was, he could not 
say. As to sex, he denied and suppressed, in himself, every sexual 
manifestation to a love object, though "etherealizing" its every 
grim aspect in his works. 

Yet, what lay deepest below Poe's works was as clearly sensed 
by others, as it was little understood by Poe. Plead chastity's cause 
as it might, Poe's opus, to many, seemed to embody all evil, per- 
versity and crime. To some, indeed, Poe seemed little better than 
a confirmed criminal. Apart from the bad poet's natural envy of 

Poe and the Function of Literature 87 

the good, and the old male rivalry for Mrs. Osgood's diaphanous 
graces, much of the same sincere indignation doubtless dictated 
the ex-cleric's, Rufus Griswold's, condemnatory attitude to Poe. 
This is the only circumstance that extenuates Griswold's malevo- 
lent publication of the "Ludwig Article" 15 the very day after his 
death, and his issue of the venomous Memoir which, as executor, 
he prefaced to the posthumous edition of Poe's works. 

Nevertheless, the supreme, forbidden, instinctual urges thus sung 
by Poe; urges which he himself hardly comprehended and which 
exceed those our love instinct is permitted to gratify, cast such a 
spell on mankind that even in his life there rose a chorus of 

Women, in particular, were conquered by his works as, indeed, 
they are so often by sadism. Mrs. Whitman and Mrs. Shelton 
would have wedded the Raven and Mrs. Shew and Mrs. Richmond 
mothered and consoled him. 

Soaring far over the Atlantic, Poe's sado-necrophilist genius was 
destined to awake, in other countries and hearts, the same mighty 
and eternal instincts of those who recognized themselves in him. 

1 Collected Papers, Vol. IV, pp. 173-183. 

2 The Interpretation of Dreams, pp. 468-9. 

3 The Interpretation of Dreams, p. 332. 

4 The Interpretation of Dreams, pp. 282-3. 

5 The Interpretation of Dreams, pp. 308-9. 
8 Collected Papers, Vol. IV, p. 180. 

7 The Interpretation of Dreams, pp. 296 ff. (The Means of Representation 
in Dreams). 

8 Ibid., p. 545. 

9 The Interpretation of Dreams, p. 302. 

10 Cf. Freud, The Antithetical Sense of Primal Words, Collected Papers, 
Vol. IV, pp. 184-191. In this essay Freud quotes from a work, dated 1884, 
by the philologist Karl Abel. 

11 Cf. Marie Bonaparte, "Du Symbolisme des trophies de tete," Revue 
frangaise de psychanalyse (1927), tome. I, fasc. 4. 

12 Difference entre V esprit de geometrie et Vesprit de finesse. Pascal, 
Pensies: I. 1. 2. 4. 

18 The Interpretation of Dreams, p. 426. 

14 "I have no doubt that the conception of the 'beautiful' is rooted in the 
soil of sexual stimulation and signified originally that which is sexually ex- 
citing. The more remarkable, therefore, is the fact that the genitals, the 


sight of which provokes the greatest sexual excitement, can really never be 
considered 'beautiful.' " Freud, Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex, 
p. 20, footnote. 

Freud has returned to the same idea on other occasions in the same work. 
See also Chapter II of Civilization and its Discontents. 

15 R. W. Griswold, The "Ludwig Article," New York Tribune (Evening 
Edition), October 9, 1849 (Virginia Edition, Vol. 1, pp. 348-359). 

Saul Rosenzweig 

The Ghost of Henry James 

Among the tales of Henry James is a super- 
natural series composed during the final third of his life and 
peopled by ghosts of a character utterly Jamesian. It is the pecu- 
liarity of these wraiths which merits special attention at this cen- 
tenary of the author's birth; for, unlike the ordinary creatures of 
their kind, they fail to represent the remnants of once-lived lives 
but point instead to the irrepressible unlived life. To consider these 
ghosts in their significance for him is a fitting expression of in- 
terest in James's immortality. 

Weirdly enough, these apparitions lead back to their point of 
origin in James's first published tale, "The Story of a Year," which 
appeared in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly for March, 1865. 
Here at the very outset was announced that "death" which spoke 
more elusively in his earlier writings, and more explicitly provided 
toward the end the basis for his literary specters. It was, in short, 
the story of his own life — written prophetically, and published at 
the early age of twenty-two; complemented in too perfect a fashion 
for other interpretation by the tales of his later years; and clarified 
autobiographically in the last full book he lived to complete. Sin- 



gularly this tale has never been reprinted, though, as every reader 
of James is aware, most of his other short stories have appeared 
in collected form once at least; many of them more than once. 

The story may be more significantly reviewed after some facts 
of James's early life have been recalled. The second child of 
Henry James, the theological and semiphilosophical writer (Wil- 
liam James, the famous psychologist, having been by but a little 
over a year the first), Henry James, the novelist, spent his earliest 
days in a household richly gifted with intellectual fare and gra- 
cious cheer. The father was a strongly individual student of cosmic 
problems which for a period brought him into close association 
with the transcendentalist group of Concord and Boston. Emerson 
was a close friend, as were also many other literary and scholarly 
figures of the time. His books dealt with religious questions, such 
as the nature of evil, and with social problems, like those of mar- 
riage and divorce, in which the relation of the individual to society 
occupied a central place. His views were distinctly unconventional. 
Though he was at various times an enthusiastic student of Fourier 
and Swedenborg, he was never a mere disciple — the individualistic 
stamp was too strong on all he thought and wrote. Indeed, this 
markedly idiosyncratic bias made his books, despite their vivid 
language and command of style, accessible to a very limited audi- 
ence. The majority tended to be of a mind with the reviewer who 
said of "The Secret of Swedenborg" that the elder James had not 
only written about the secret of Swedenborg but that he had kept 
it. One is inevitably reminded of the similar quips with which the 
works of his son and namesake were later received; for example, 
the comment in Life expressing the hope that Henry James would 
sharpen his point of view and then stick himself with it, and Mark 
Twain's avowal that he would rather be damned to John Bunyan's 
heaven than have to read The Bostonians. 

The early life of the elder James is not without interest in the 
present context, especially as concerns an accident which befell 
him at the age of thirteen and which left its mark upon him for 
the rest of his life. While a schoolboy at the Albany Academy, he 
formed one of a group who used to meet in a nearby park for ex- 
periments in balloon flying. The motive power for the balloon was 

The Ghost of Henry James 91 

furnished by a ball of tow soaked in turpentine. The ball would 
drop when the balloon caught fire, and the boys would then kick 
the ball around for their amusement. During one of these experi- 
ments, when Henry's pantaloons had by chance got sprinkled with 
turpentine, one of the balls came flying through the open window 
of a stable. The boy in an attempt to put out the fire, which would 
otherwise have consumed the building, rushed to the hayloft and 
stamped out the flame. In doing so he burnt his leg severely and 
had to remain in bed for the next two years. A double amputation 
above the knee proved necessary. He had a wooden leg in later 
years and was prevented by his infirmity from leading a very active 
life. Fortunately he had inherited sufficient money from his father 
— an influential and wealthy citizen of Albany — to obviate any 
routine means of earning a livelihood. Accordingly, the children 
of Henry James were much more closely companioned by him than 
would otherwise have been possible, and it is thus easier to un- 
derstand that the strength of character which he had should have 
left so strong an impression upon their young personalities. In his 
Notes of a Son and Brother (p. 192), the son Henry refers to 
his father's handicap and couples the latter's acceptance of it with 
a further resignation to the lack of worldly recognition the mes- 
sage of his books received. The similarity to the son's own fate 
is again noteworthy, not merely for their both having been neg- 
lected by the general public — a circumstance already mentioned — 
but for their common lot of infirmity. 

The particular infirmity of the son must at the very outset be 
recognized as having established itself upon fertile soil. Henry was 
apparently always unsure of himself. As a boy his incapacity for 
athletics and for schoolwork equally stood out in his impressions 
although he occupied the place of favorite in his mother's affec- 
tions. He was especially aware of a certain inferiority to his older 
and more energetic brother William — he has said as much — and 
William has in counterpart written in one of his letters about 
"innocent and at bottom very powerless-feeling Harry." But the 
accident which offered this general orientation a specific date and 
place for its disclosure is still inescapably important. 

No better description of it could possibly be given than that 


which the victim has himself provided. He is speaking in Notes of 
a Son and Brother of his year at the Harvard Law School, and 
of the inception of his literary career. He continues (pp. 296 ff.) : 

Two things and more had come up — the biggest of which, and 
very wondrous as bearing on any circumstance of mine, as hav- 
ing a grain of weight to spare for it, was the breaking out of the 
[Civil] War. The other, the infinitely small affair in comparison, 
was a passage of personal history the most entirely personal, but 
between which, as a private catastrophe or difficulty, bristling 
with embarrassments, and the great public convulsion that an- 
nounced itself in bigger terms each day, I felt from the very first 
an association of the closest, yet withal, I fear, almost of the least 
clearly expressible. Scarce at all to be stated, to begin with, the 
queer fusion or confusion established in my consciousness during 
the soft spring of '61 by the firing on Fort Sumter, Mr. Lincoln's 
instant first call for volunteers and a physical mishap, already 
referred to as having overtaken me at the same dark hour, and 
the effects of which were to draw themselves out incalculably and 
intolerably. Beyond all present notation the interlaced, undivided 
way in which what had happened to me, by a turn of fortune's 
hand, in twenty odious minutes, kept company of the most un- 
natural^ — I can call it nothing less — with my view of what was 
happening, with the question of what might still happen, to 
everyone about me, to the country at large: it so made of these 
marked disparities a single vast visitation. One had the sense, I 
mean, of a huge comprehensive ache, and there were hours at 
which one could scarce have told whether it came from one's 
own poor organism, still so young and so meant for better things, 
but which had suffered particular wrong, or from the enclosing 
social body, a body rent with a thousand wounds and that thus 
treated one to the honour of a sort of tragic fellowship. The twenty 
minutes had sufficed, at all events, to establish a relation — a rela- 
tion to everything occurring round me not only for the next four 
years but for long afterward — that was at once extraordinarily 
intimate and quite awkwardly irrelevant. I must have felt in some 
befooled way in presence of a crisis — the smoke of Charleston 
Bay still so acrid in the air — at which the likely young should be 
up and doing or, as familiarly put, lend a hand much wanted; the 
willing youths, all round, were mostly starting to their feet, and 
to have trumped up a lameness at such a juncture could be made 
to pass in no light for graceful. Jammed into the acute angle be- 
tween two high fences, where the rhythmic play of my arms, in 
tune with that of several other pairs, but at a dire disadvantage 

The Ghost of Henry James 93 

of position, induced a rural, a rusty, a quasi-extemporized old en- 
gine to work and a saving stream to flow, I had done myself, in 
face of a shabby conflagration, a horrid even if an obscure hurt; 
and what was interesting from the first was my not doubting in 
the least its duration — though what seemed equally clear was that 
I needn't as a matter of course adopt and appropriate it, so to 
speak, or place it for increase of interest on exhibition. The in- 
terest of it, I very presently knew, would certainly be of the 
greatest, would even in conditions kept as simple as I might make 
them become little less than absorbing. The shortest account of 
what was to follow for a long time after is therefore to plead that 
the interest never did fail. It was naturally what is called a pain- 
ful one, but it consistently declined, as an influence at play, to 
drop for a single instant. Circumstances, by a wonderful chance, 
overwhelmingly favored it — as an interest, an inexhaustible, I 
mean; since I also felt in the whole enveloping tonic atmosphere 
a force promoting its growth. Interest, the interest of life and of 
death, of our national existence, of the fate of those, the vastly 
numerous, whom it closely concerned, the interest of the extend- 
ing War, in fine, the hurrying troops, the transfigured scene, 
formed a cover for every sort of intensity, made tension itself in 
fact contagious — so that almost any tension would do, would 
serve for one's share. 

Two points stand out in these stirring words: first, James did 
not doubt from the beginning that his hurt would involve much 
and last long; and, second, he could not view it as a merely per- 
sonal experience but found it indissolubly united with the war 
which was at that moment engulfing the entire nation. The former 
consideration shows clearly that somewhere in his personality the 
seed had been sown for what had now transpired, despite the 
appearance of mere accident, just as in his later tale, "The Beast 
in the Jungle," the hero knew without any statable basis that he 
would one day suffer some extremity of disaster from which his 
life would acquire its significance. It may be conjectured from 
what has already been said regarding the accidental crippling of 
the father at the age of thirteen that the dire experience of the 
son at eighteen was in some sense a repetition — that by one of 
those devious paths of identification which creates strange needs 
in sensitive personalities, Henry James, the son, while likewise 
engaged in extinguishing a fire may, if only for a moment, have 


suffered a lapse of attention or alertness, due possibly to some 
glimmering association about his father's accident on a so similar 
occasion; and that thus favored, the accident took effect. 1 It seems 
not unlikely that but for this momentary incoordination, the injury 
— described somewhere as a sprain — would not have been sus- 
tained. Such a psychological moment can surely not be under- 
estimated by any sympathetic reader of James since he himself 
made of just such minutiae the essence of his art. How much the 
proximity of the rhythmically moving men may have contributed 
to the mental association with the father and the "lapse" must 
remain like the lapse itself a matter of conjecture. But the pre- 
sumed relationship to the father's accident seems to explain the 
son's avowed receptivity for the event and his certainty as to its 

These considerations also shed some light upon the nature of the 
injury, especially in its psychological significance. James himself 
describes it as "the most entirely personal" and as "a horrid even 
if an obscure hurt." It is known also that it in some way affected 
his back. But the physical aspect which has on occasion been 
stressed is of purely secondary importance. Paramount is the sub- 
jective depth of the injury as James experienced it. Occurring at 
the very outbreak of the war, the event may well have caused him 
to suspect himself as an unconscious malingerer. A complex of 
guilt could thus have remained. Coming as it did at a time when 
men were needed by the country and were, like his own brothers 
Wilky and Robertson, answering the call, the injury even more 
surely constituted a proof of his powerlessness and crystallized a 
sense of impotence from which he never fully recovered. The 
avoidance of passion and the overqualification in his later writings 
are largely traceable to such an implicit attitude of combined guilt 
and inferiority; as are also some of his subsequent actions includ- 
ing, as will be pointed out presently, his participation in World 
War I. 

In such a context is understandable also his consternation after 
having revealed his problem at finding it, as he says in Notes of a 
Son and Brother, "treated but to a comparative pooh-pooh — an 
impression I long looked back to as a sharp parting of the ways, 

The Ghost of Henry James 95 

with an adoption of the wrong one distinctly determined" (p. 330). 
The great surgeon to whom his father conducted him for consulta- 
tion in Boston might at least have offered some warning of what 
was in store. Obviously, the surgeon, with a not uncommon lack 
of interest in psychological implications, did not even begin to 
fathom the depths to which the experience of his patient reached, 
and the patient, feeling much from these depths, was the more ap- 
palled at the medical advice he received. Corresponding to this neg- 
ative aspect is a positive one — the orientation which James tells of 
adopting toward his injury in trying to come to terms with it. In the 
late summer of 1861 he visited a camp of invalid and convalescent 
troops in Rhode Island. He had here his "first and all but sole 
vision of the American soldier in his multitude, and above all — for 
that was markedly the colour of the whole thing — in his depres- 
sion, his wasted melancholy almost; an effect that somehow cor- 
responds for memory, I bethink myself, with the tender elegiac tone 
in which Walt Whitman was later on so admirably to commem- 
orate him" (pp. 310 f.). James tells of talking with the soldiers 
and comforting them as he could, not only with words but by 
"such pecuniary solace as I might at brief notice draw on my 
poor pocket for. Yet again, as I indulge this memory, do I feel 
that I might if pushed a little rejoice in having to such an extent 
coincided with, not to say perhaps positively anticipated, dear old 
Walt — even if I hadn't come armed like him with oranges and 
peppermints. I ministered much more summarily, though possibly 
in proportion to the time and thanks to my better luck more 
pecuniarily; but I like to treat myself to making out that I can 
scarce have brought to the occasion (in proportion to the time 
again and to other elements of the case) less of the consecrating 
sentiment than he" (pp. 314 f.). As he sailed back to Newport that 
night feeling considerably the worse for his exertion in his "im- 
paired state," there established itself in his mind, "measuring 
wounds against wounds," a correspondence between himself and 
the soldiers "less exaltedly than wastefully engaged in the common 
fact of endurance" (p. 318). 

Another heartening aspect presented itself at the Harvard Law 
School, which he at this time attended for some months, where the 


"bristling horde of . . . comrades fairly produced the illusion 
of a mustered army. The Cambridge campus was tented field 
enough for a conscript starting so compromised; and I can scarce 
say moreover how easily it let me down that when it came to the 
point one had still fine, fierce young men, in great numbers, for 
company, there being at the worst so many such who hadn't flown 
to arms" (pp. 301-302). 

His new orientation entailed a constructive step forward. In the 
months which followed, James turned to the art of fiction. His first 
published tale was, as has already been mentioned, "The Story of a 
Year." Needless to say, the story should be read in its original 
form to be fully appreciated. Unfortunately it is not easy of access 
since it was never reprinted, but a synopsis, however lacking artisti- 
cally, may convey certain essentials of the plot which are needed 

John Ford has a second lieutenancy in the Northern Army and 
is about to leave for the war. On a long walk just before his de- 
parture he proposes marriage to the ward of his widowed mother. 
The girl is named Elizabeth, or Lizzie, Crowe. She is a simple, 
pretty creature who is overjoyed at the prospect of marriage, but 
he exacts from her the promise that if anything should happen to 
him in the war, she will forget him and accept the love of another. 
He also cautions that, to avoid gossip, it may be better to keep the 
engagement a secret, but he does not bind her on this point. On 
getting home the girl goes to her room, while he tells his mother 
of the engagement. Mrs. Ford is definitely against the match be- 
cause she thinks Elizabeth shallow and not good enough for him. 
(The author suggests that, having been a good mother, Mrs. Ford 
would have liked for her son to choose a woman on her own 
model. ) He refuses to accept his mother's judgment about the girl, 
but tries to avoid contention on his last night at home. He asks his 
mother not to discuss the matter with Elizabeth. 

After he is gone the two women say nothing about the engage- 
ment to each other at any time, but the mother has her secret plans. 
When Elizabeth's first blush of excitement is over, she is sent by 
Mrs. Ford on a visit to a friend in another city and there, decked 
out in finery of her guardian's making, she soon wins another 

The Ghost of Henry James 97 

suitor — Bruce. When she leaves for home, he comes to the train 
to see her off and accidentally shows her the newspaper which con- 
tains the announcement of Ford's having been severely wounded. 
Elizabeth is in great conflict and now avoids Bruce, who would 
accompany her to the next station. When Elizabeth reaches home, 
Mrs. Ford states her intention of going to nurse her son — the very 
thing the girl had planned to do herself; but Lizzie is strangely 
relieved by this shift of responsibility. She stays at home, while 
Mrs. Ford goes off. 

Elizabeth now dreams one night that she is walking with a tall 
dark man who calls her wife. In the shadow of a tree they find an 
unburied male corpse covered with wounds. Elizabeth proposes 
that a grave be dug, but as they lift the corpse it suddenly opens 
its eyes and says "Amen." She and her companion place it in the 
grave and stamp the earth down with their feet. 

Various changes occur — Ford gets better, gets worse, etc., and 
at one point when it seems he is dying, Elizabeth accepts Bruce, 
who is visiting in the town at the time. But Ford unexpectedly has 
a turn for the better and is brought home to be nursed. His mother 
manages to keep Elizabeth away from him for some time. When 
first rejected at his door, Lizzie wraps a blanket around herself 
and goes out on the steps. Bruce comes by, but she will not talk 
with him and leaves him standing there stupefied. The next day she 
manages to get into Jack's room, and he appears to recognize her. 
When Mrs. Ford learns of this visit, she is very angry, but Jack 
asks for Elizabeth to come again. This time he explains to her that 
he knows he is going to die. He is, however, glad that she has found 
someone else and blesses them both. He asks Elizabeth to be kind 
to his mother. He dies. The next day Elizabeth encounters Bruce, 
but she is willing only to say farewell. She says she must do justice 
to her old love. She forbids Bruce to follow her. "But for all that 
he went in." 

The story has today a timely interest of a general sort since it 
embodies a type of problem confronting many young men and 
women in the confused contemporary world. But it obviously goes 
deeper by bringing home the manner in which events on a national, 
or even international, scale may have a peculiarly personal signifi- 


cance for the individual which is timeless in character. Thus James 
says: "I have no intention of following Lieutenant Ford to the seat 
of war. The exploits of his campaign are recorded in the public 
journals of the day, where the curious may still peruse them. My 
own taste has always been for unwritten history, and my present 
business is with the reverse of the picture." 

As a first step in interpretation must be noted the facts that the 
hero foresees his own death, is wounded, and dies. In foreseeing 
his death, he makes his sweetheart promise that she will forget 
him and choose another if need be. The mother opposes the match, 
and the girl in the case is represented as abandoning the hero well 
before his own physical wounds have doomed him. It is hardly 
possible to escape the conclusion that those wounds were not 
meant to be fatal without the contribution of the unhappy love 
motif. The wounds of the hero are, in other words, not those of a 
patriot who dies of what befalls him in military combat. They are 
those of a lover forsaken by his psychological fate. The personal 
significance of the war as opposed to its national or external one 
is emphasized. The war serves merely as a screen upon which the 
deeply private problem can be projected. 

At this point one comes readily to see that this tale of the Civil 
War and the author's description of his civilian injury at the time 
of its outbreak are closely related. The correspondence which had 
established itself in his mind between the wounded soldiers in 
Rhode Island and his own impaired state is expressed imaginatively 
in this first story. But the author's view takes precedence over the 
soldier's even in the fiction, since it is the implication of the wounds 
for love rather than for war that is stressed. The death of the hero 
in "The Story of a Year" is thus a representation of James's own 
passional death as implied in the Notes of a Son and Brother. 

The dream of Elizabeth is one of the high lights of the tale and 
clearly illustrates James's early mastery of certain psychological 
processes which have been more formally described by profes- 
sional psychologists only recently. Not only is the dream prophetic 
— that would be banal — but it portrays in clear images the conflict 
in the dreamer's mind and the inevitable solution she will adopt in 
keeping with her deepest wishes. Such a reading of the dream 

The Ghost of Henry James 99 

indicates unmistakably that the hero's fate was sealed not by the 
wounds he sustained in battle, but by the psychological forces in 
the situation. Among such forces were not only the faithlessness of 
the girl but also the opposition of the mother and the hero's own 
self-doubt. The banter with which his early conversation with the 
girl is embellished — the references to the possibility of the hero's 
looking like a woman instead of a man after he returns with his 
wounds — is of considerable interest as indicating the presence of 
certain feminine elements in his personality to which his self-doubt 
and the anticipated injury may bear some relationship. 

Certain details of the story might with further knowledge of 
James's own life lend themselves to a fuller interpretation. Thus, 
for instance, the possessive character of the mother in relation to 
the son; the heroine's being a ward of the mother — a "cousin" 
of the hero; and the personality of the successful rival Bruce — all 
raise interesting problems regarding possible intimates in James's 
environment. Perhaps even more significant is the absence of a 
father — the widowed state of Mrs. Ford. If Henry James's own 
father is here in question, the filial relationship may have been 
sensed as "too sacred" for exposure. The depth of identification 
between father and son in terms of their common infirmity, already 
discussed, agrees with such a view. This construction is, moreover, 
borne out by the fiction itself if the father's death existing as a 
given fact when the story opens is taken as corresponding to the 
death of the son at its close. The identity of their fates may be 
regarded as symbolizing their psychological identification. Para- 
mount, however, is the other equivalence of Henry James's blight 
and John Ford's death. For from this "death" came the ghost 
which was to appear again and again in the later tales. 

Before turning to the subject of this specter, attention must be 
paid to some intermediate stages of development. As if to ma- 
terialize the "death," James actually left America to take up resi- 
dence in England in 1875. The fantasy had for a time been ade- 
quate as a form of adjustment, but in the end it yielded as a 
forecast to the actual physical withdrawal. For this often discussed 
self-exile seems to have represented an escape from a world dis- 
agreeable before and now no longer tolerable. Most of James's 


tales and novels were written while he was living abroad, and a great 
number of them, from A Passionate Pilgrim (1871) to The Am- 
bassadors (1903), present the problems of the expatriate and the 
allied contrast between Old and New Worlds. He returned twice 
to his native land in the early eighties. His mother died during the 
first visit, and his father's sudden and final illness brought him 
back almost immediately. He then remained away again for over 
twenty years. After a decade, however — in the early nineties — he 
began writing a series of supernatural tales to which allusion has 
already been made. "Sir Edmund Orme," which was copyrighted 
in 1891 and appears to have been the first, concerns the fate of a 
lover who as a prerequisite to his marriage must rid himself of a 
ghost that represents an early jilted suitor of his prospective 
mother-in-law. The uncanny relationship between the older woman 
and young man, with the apparition of an unloved youth as in- 
termediary, unmistakably revives the situation in "The Story of a 
Year." There, it will be recalled, the subordination of John Ford 
to his mother's judgment eventually coincided with his own pre- 
sentiment of death and made together for what could on the 
surface well be taken for a jilting by his sweetheart. The super- 
natural tale, however, records the triumph of the hero over the 
ghost and thus sounds the keynote of James's new orientation. The 
same restorative tendency is even more obviously at work in "Owen 
Wingrave," which appeared in 1893. Owen has been preparing for 
a military career — the traditional profession of his family — when 
at the eleventh hour he decides to brave every misunderstanding, 
even that of cowardice, and keep faith with his deepest convictions 
by giving up his plans. In the stormy days that follow he accepts 
the challenge of the girl who, somewhat like Elizabeth Crowe in 
the case of John Ford, had been his childhood playmate and a 
dependent of his family. To prove his courage, he allows her to 
lock him for the night in a haunted chamber where his great-great- 
grandfather had mysteriously died after having accidentally caused 
the death of his own young son by an angry blow. Like his an- 
cestor, Owen wins his grave in that room. "He looked like a young 
soldier on a battle field." In this instance the relationship of the 
hero to the paternal figure, rather than the maternal one — as in 

The Ghost of Henry James 101 

"Sir Edmund Orme" — is portrayed and, similarly, the emphasis is 
laid upon aggression (or war) rather than upon love. The other 
aspect of John Ford's problem seems thus to be bared — the role 
of the father figure as an inhibitor of aggression. The integrity of 
the hero is in the end established even if, like his sire before him, 
he has to yield his life to the ghost of an accidental violence. As 
a presentation of James's personal problem at the outbreak of the 
Civil War, including even the relation of his, injury to that of his 
father, this tale is once more clearly autobiographical. As in "Sir 
Edmund Orme," the vindicating theme is again dominant. For the 
ghosts which haunted their author from the undying past (as a 
return of the repressed) could only be exorcised by the achieve- 
ment of some solution. 

After a series of such tales had for over ten years proclaimed his 
deep preoccupation with the past, James began to plan eagerly for 
an American visit of six or eight months. His supernatural fantasies 
had foretold this revisit even as "The Story of a Year" had previ- 
ously forecast the departure for Europe. The counterpart to the 
defensive escape was to be a compulsive return. The need he felt 
was strong. His brother William tried to dissuade him, in order 
doubtless to spare him the pain which the exposure would inflict 
upon his sensitive nature. But Henry insisted that he actually needed 
"shocks." How he experienced these in 1904-1905 is vividly re- 
corded in The American Scene, which he wrote on his return to 

The itinerary of his American trip as reflected in the chapters 
of this book is in itself instructive. The "repatriated absentee" or 
"restless analyst," as he variously styles himself, went first to New 
England. He then saw New York, Newport, Boston, Concord, and 
Salem; Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and the South — Rich- 
mond, Charleston, and Florida. He traveled also to the Far West, 
but his book concludes with Florida. The sequel he planned was 
never written, and it strikes one that, with the South accounted 
for, the rest was to him merely appendix. 

At any rate, his visits to Richmond and Charleston — where he 
had never been before — stand out as especially significant. He says, 


in speaking of his "going South," that it somehow corresponded 
now to what in ancient days the yearning for Europe seemed 
romantically to promise. Early in the chapter on Richmond he 
alludes to the outbreak of the Civil War and describes the city 
almost purely in terms of its having been the Confederate capital. 
He characterizes it (p. 358, passim) as "the haunted scene" and 
"the tragic ghost-haunted city," full of an "adorable weakness" 
that evokes a certain "tenderness" in the visitor. The gist of his 
impression he gives in an image: "I can doubtless not sufficiently 
tell why, but there was something in my whole sense of the South 
that projected at moments a vivid and painful image — that of a 
figure somehow blighted or stricken, discomfortably, impossibly 
seated in an invalid-chair, and yet fixing one with strange eyes 
that were half a defiance and half a deprecation of one's noticing, 
and much more of one's referring to, an abnormal sign" (p. 362). 
A strong suspicion arises that the image here projected is that of 
James himself in 1861. For confirmation one need only recall his 
own description of the manner in which his youthful injury had 
united itself indissolubly in his mind with the Civil War. As his 
own inner turmoil had corresponded then to the internal conflict of 
the country, so now his highly sympathetic and tender response 
to the vanquished faction seems builded on an understanding 
of his quite similar fate. 

This view is borne out by his impressions of Charleston. Here, 
again, the war of North and South dominates his field of vision, 
but, unlike the Northern friend who accompanied him, he finds 
himself concentrating on the "bled" condition and his heart fails to 
harden even against the treachery at Fort Sumter. Once more a 
synoptic image emerges, this time of feminization: "The feminiza- 
tion is there just to promote for us some eloquent antithesis; just 
to make us say that whereas the ancient order was masculine, 
fierce and moustachioed, the present is at the most a sort of sick 
lioness who has so visibly parted with her teeth and claws that we 
may patronizingly walk all round her. . . . This image really gives 
us the best word for the general effect of Charleston. . . ." (pp. 
401 f.). One recalls almost with a start the bantering conversation 
in "The Story of a Year" of forty years earlier between the hero 

The Ghost of Henry James 103 

and the heroine as to the possibility of his looking like a "lady" 
when he returns from the war with his wounds. John Ford carries 
on the figure by saying that even if he grows a moustache, as he 
intends to do, he will be altering his face as women do a misfitting 
garment — taking in on one side and letting out on the other — 
insofar as he crops his head and cultivates his chin. 

In general, then, the impression seems sustained that Henry 
James's visit to America in 1904-1905, after twenty years of ab- 
sence, was largely actuated by an impulse to repair, if possible, the 
injury and to complete the unfinished experience of his youth. He 
was, as it were, haunted by the ghost of his own past and of this 
he wished to disabuse his mind before actual death overtook him. 
Since the Civil War had played so vital a part in his early blight, he 
now visited the South for the first time and received there those 
impressions which bear so strong a mark of personal projection. 

The plausibility of this reconstruction and of the preceding in- 
terpretation of "The Story of a Year" is strengthened by a psycho- 
logical reading of the later supernatural tales, especially "The Jolly 
Corner." This short story was first published in the English Review 
for December, 1908, shortly after his visit to the United States. 
It is the story of Spencer Brydon who as a man of fifty-six returns 
to America after many years of residence in Europe. He has come 
to look at his property — the house on the Jolly Corner — where he 
was born and grew up. Before long he becomes absorbed in the 
old house to the point of visiting it nightly in the strange hope of 
encountering there his own alter ego — the ghost of his former self. 
When he finally does succeed and is confronted by the specter he 
has been seeking, he notes among other things that two fingers 
on its right hand are missing. He cannot endure to face the image 
before him — he refuses to recognize himself there — and over- 
whelmed by the extremity of his emotion, he falls unconscious. 
When he revives, Alice Staverton, whom he had known in his 
early days before taking up residence abroad and whom he has 
been seeing since his return, is standing over him. She, too, has 
seen the ghost — in a dream — and thus knew that Spencer had 
made the encounter. He protests to her that the shape he has met 
was not himself till she quite simply declares, "Isn't the whole 


point that you'd have been different?" It is clear from the context 
that the heroine could have been in love with the rejected per- 
sonality (the ghost) since she understood it. She is, however, 
equally ready to accept Brydon as he is today and reconcile him, 
perhaps, to those unacknowledged aspects of himself which have 
kept him from her all these years — which have driven him abroad 
to escape himself. 

The specter in this tale is typical of Henry James. Unlike the 
ghosts of other writers, the creatures of James's imagination repre- 
sent not the shadows of lives once lived, but the immortal impulses 
of the unlived life. In the present story the ghost of Spencer Brydon 
is obviously his rejected self. Moreover, an injury — the two lost 
fingers — here stands in some relation to the fact that the life was 
not lived or that, in other words, a kind of psychological death 
had occurred. Finally, the injury and the related incompletion have 
entailed an unfulfilled love. The hero has fled the heroine because 
he could not face himself. 

At this point one is obviously but a step from "The Story of a 
Year," written forty years earlier than "The Jolly Corner." To re- 
peat what has more than once been implied: with the death of 
John Ford the ghost of Spencer Brydon came into existence. The 
story of the latter is a complement to that of the former. As Henry 
James — or Ford — left America to reside abroad, Brydon returns 
to confront his former self. The identity of the characters is estab- 
lished by the injuries each suffered — James's "obscure hurt," 
Ford's wounds, and Brydon's missing fingers. But like James dur- 
ing his visit in 1904-1905, Brydon is obviously attempting to 
rectify the past — to face it again and test the answer previously 
given. There is thus represented here not merely a harking back 
with vain regrets but an obvious effort to overcome old barriers 
and pass beyond them. It is in this spirit that the woman in the 
case, Alice Staverton, now likewise appears as a complement to 
Elizabeth Crowe. Whereas Elizabeth had been faithless, Alice is 
ever faithful and still ready to accept her lover both as he was and 
as he is. Even the device of the dream recurs — the dream of Eliza- 
beth having presaged her abandonment of Ford, while that of 

The Ghost of Henry James 105 

Alice brings her through her empathy to the scene of Brydon's 
overwhelming encounter with his ghost. 

The complementary relationship of these two tales, standing at 
the very beginning and all but the end of James's creative work, is 
so striking that one is impelled to believe that the second was in- 
tentionally written as a counterpart to the first. This conjecture is 
supported by chronological considerations. When James toured 
America in 1904-1905, memories of the Civil War were vividly 
revived for him, as has already been mentioned. "The Story of a 
Year" must surely have been recalled at that time in sharp relief. 
But one of the more practical reasons for the journey was to 
arrange for the publication of the definitive New York Edition of 
his collected fiction. After completing The American Scene on his 
return to England, he spent the next two years in rereading, select- 
ing, and meticulously revising his novels and tales. Critics have 
assailed the rigorous censorship to which the earlier writings were 
subjected in this process, but James's action is understandable if 
one compares the revision and the revisit as attempts equally to 
reclaim the past and reshape it while there was yet time. In the 
careful review of all his past work which the preparation of the 
collected edition entailed, James must again have come upon "The 
Story of a Year," this time paginally. But he did not include this 
tale. What one does find there — psychologically instead — is a new 
story, "The Jolly Corner," which was first published in 1908 and 
was probably written during the arduous process of the collective 
revision. This tale was plainly based on the American visit, yet it 
no doubt also represented a retelling of the omitted "The Story of 
a Year" — the most radical revision of them all. For in "The Jolly 
Corner" one finds a coalescence of revisit and revision which satis- 
factorily explains the complementary relationship of this story to 
the first ever written. Through marking the persistence of the 
trend one comes to see that, despite the wishful reworking, "The 
Story of a Year" was nevertheless the story of a life. 

Towards the end of 1909 and for nearly a year thereafter, James 
suffered from a severe nervous depression which completely in- 
capacitated him for work. This illness must in the foregoing con- 
text be taken as a reaction to the failure of his restitutive efforts. 


Neither the supernatural tales nor the American return nor the 
definitive revision of his works had achieved the solution he des- 
perately sought, and despair overtook him. His brother William's 
death toward the end of 1910 removed a mainstay of his life and 
deepened his misery. Further illness in 1912 made the end seem 
tragically near. 

But through everything he held on, actuated still by the same 
forward impetus that had unfailingly declared itself before. He was 
unwittingly preparing for the final and highest adventure of his life. 
For with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, this reticent man 
of seventy-one, until now without any obvious interest in political 
affairs, of a sudden identified himself with social action. He recog- 
nized the cost that might be involved when he compared himself 
to the quiet dweller in a tenement upon whom the question of 
"structural improvements" is thrust and he feared for his "house 
of the spirit" where everything had become for better or worse 
adjusted to his familiar habits and use. But this "vulgar apprehen- 
sion" could not deter him; and, as he says in Within the Rim, "I 
found myself before long building on additions and upper stories, 
throwing out extensions and protrusions, indulging even, all reck- 
lessly, in gables and pinnacles and battlements — things that had 
presently transformed the unpretending place into I scarce know 
what to call it, a fortress of the faith, a palace of the soul, an ex- 
travagant, bristling, flag-flying structure which had quite as much 
to do with the air as with the earth" (pp. 19 f.). 

His efforts for the Allied cause knew no bounds. He visited army 
hospitals and refugee encampments (as he had on a certain earlier 
occasion visited a military camp of invalids in Rhode Island); 
made pecuniary contributions and wrote articles for war charities; 
supported movements like the American Volunteer Ambulance 
Corps; and performed a host of lesser tasks as a daily routine from 
the beginning of the war until his death. His friends were amazed 
— even as they were inspired — by the fervor of this notoriously 
passionless writer. As Percy Lubbock, the editor of James's Letters, 
well says: "To all who listened to him in those days it must have 
seemed that he gave us what we lacked — a voice; there was a trum- 
pet note in it that was heard nowhere else and that alone rose to 

The Ghost of Henry James 107 

the height of the truth. For a while it was as though the burden 
of age had slipped from him; he lived in the lives of all who were 
acting and suffering — especially of the young, who acted and suf- 
fered most. His spiritual vigour bore a strain that was the greater 
by the whole weight of his towering imagination; but the time came 
at last when his bodily endurance failed. He died resolutely confi- 
dent of the victory that was still so far off." Edmund Gosse, among 
others, expressed the opinion that James's death early in 1916 was 
definitely hastened by his profligate expenditure of energy in war 

In these days when the centenary of Henry James's birth coin- 
cides with World War II, the significance of his death during World 
War I well lends itself to further examination. Without detracting 
in the least from the positive significance of the contribution, one 
may still trace the line of its descent from the earlier record already 
revealed. Is it too much to suggest that the unparalleled fervor of 
his actions is to some extent explained by a belated compensation 
for his failure at the time of the Civil War? In favor of such a view 
is the fact that the last book he lived to complete — Notes of a Son 
and Brother — and the one in which he recounted the memories of 
his youth, including his injury, was published in 1914. His early 
experiences were thus unusually fresh in his mind at the outbreak 
of the war. But to this inference may be added his own testimony 
as found in the opening sentences of the little volume, Within the 
Rim, in which are collected his wartime essays: "The first sense of 
it all to me after the first shock and horror was that of a sudden 
leap back into life of the violence with which the American Civil 
War broke upon us, at the North, fifty-four years ago, when I had 
a consciousness of youth which perhaps equalled in vivacity my 
present consciousness of age. . . . The analogy quickened and deep- 
ened with every elapsing hour; the drop of the balance under the 
invasion of Belgium reproduced with intensity the agitation of the 
New England air by Mr. Lincoln's call to arms, and I went about 
for a short space as with the queer secret locked in my breast of at 
least already knowing how such occasions helped and what a big 
war was going to mean" (pp. 11 f . ) . The analogy of the wars in his 
own consciousness thus attested, it is not difficult to believe that a 


common motivational tie was at least implicitly at work. He might 
have been found wanting in 1861, but he would not be found so on 
this second and doubtless final occasion. At that earlier time he had 
adjusted to his personal wounds by withdrawal and by such con- 
structive acts as the art of fiction permitted. But now a positive 
participation in real social action would provide the solution for 
the problem which had haunted him through life. Instead of hang- 
ing his head as a war disability, he would stand forth as a war hero; 
England, which had been for him a refuge of escape, would become 
a citadel of his true assertion; and America, which had exhibited 
him as weak, would now be exhibited by him as weak. 

In this setting becomes intelligible the mooted question of James's 
assumption of British citizenship a few months before his death. He 
had, on the one hand, been adding to his numerous activities in the 
Allied interest repeated statements of his consternation that Amer- 
ica did not enter the war at once. On the other hand, his fervent 
identification with the English cause increased daily. Thus in July, 
1915, he at last became a naturalized British subject. By this stroke 
he changed for himself the orientation of a lifetime. His haven 
of refuge was transformed into the many-flagged and turreted em- 
battlements of which he well might write with a surge of liberated 
passion. From these heights he could in the end look down upon 
America hanging back in the distance. His own words — in a letter 
to his nephew — again at this point offer direct confirmation: "I 
have testified to my long attachment here in the only way I could 
— though I certainly shouldn't have done it, under the inspiration 
of our Cause, if the U. S. A. had done it a little more for me. Then 
I should have thrown myself back on that and been content with it; 
but as this, at the end of a year, hasn't taken place, I have had 
to act for myself, and I go so far as quite to think, I hope not 
fatuously, that I shall have set an example and shown a little 
something of the way." 

It seems not improbable that this excessive expenditure of en- 
ergy in a man over seventy brought on a death premature by some 
months or even years. But he must surely have felt that the reward 
had been worth the cost. And regarding these final events in the 
terms not of what they may have been surmounting in his past, 

The Ghost of Henry James 109 

but, as from the vantage point of the present, they appear progres- 
sively to mean, one can respond in full accord; since James by the 
active assertion of that period re-established vital contact with 
contemporary social realities. 

So at last the pattern of the genius which was Henry James 
emerges. Suffering since childhood from a keen sense of inade- 
quacy, he experienced in his eighteenth year an injury that sharply 
crystallized this attitude into a passional death. The ghost which 
as an apotheosis of his unlived life appears repeatedly in his later 
tales was liberated from this "death." Many aspects of his experi- 
ence and work up to the very time of his actual death were oriented 
as movements back to and forward from this nucleus. 

The broader application of the inherent pattern is familiar to 
readers of Edmund Wilson's recent volume, The Wound and the 
Bow. This title paraphrases the Philoctetes of Sophocles in which 
the hero's rare skill with the bow is portrayed as having a mysteri- 
ous, if not supernatural, relationship to his stubbornly persistent 
wound — a snake bite to the foot. Abandoned in his illness for years 
on the island of Lemnos, Philoctetes is finally conducted to Troy, 
where he fights and kills Paris in single combat, thus becoming one 
of the great heroes of the Trojan War. Reviewing the experience 
and works of several well-known literary masters, Wilson discloses 
the sacrificial roots of their power on the model of the Greek 
legend. In the case of Henry James the present account not only 
provides a similar insight into the unhappy sources of his genius 
but reveals the aptness of the Philoctetes pattern even to the point 
where the bow of the wounded and exiled archer is at the last 
enlisted literally in a crucial military cause. 


In the jargon of psychoanalysis the story just sketched could be 
retold as follows. The Oedipus situation of Henry James included 
a highly individualistic father — a cripple — and a gifted sibling rival 
(William) who together dwarfed the boy in his own eyes beyond 
hope of ever attaining their stature. A severe inferiority complex 


resulted. The problematic relationship to father and brother was 
solved submissively by a profound repression of aggressiveness. 

At the age of eighteen, in the earliest days of the Civil War, 
Henry sustained a persistent physical injury. A keen sense of 
created impotence, combined with a possible suspicion of uncon- 
scious malingering, now crystallized his early sense of inferiority 
into "castration anxiety." The "obscure but intimate hurt" was 
experienced as involving not only the manliness of war, then so- 
cially so moot, but also the virility of love, which was focal in 
the adolescent stage of his individual development. Identification 
with the crippled ("castrated") but powerful father could have 
figured in the trauma both through the son's remarkably similar 
accident and in their common incapacitation. At the same time, 
the injury, interpreted more deeply, may have been unconsciously 
embraced as a token of filial submission: the acknowledged weak- 
ness was at once peculiarly appropriated as "an inexhaustible inter- 
est." Introversion in which both aggression and sexuality were 
repressed was now established as a modus vivendi. 

The possible role of constitutional bisexuality should be noted in 
passing, even if only speculatively. Injuries like the one experienced 
by James may be conceived to subdue the more active and mascu- 
line components of personality and accentuate as a counterpoise 
the more passive and feminine ones. The creative drive of genius 
seems often to be enhanced even as its capacity is paradoxically 
also limited by such a destiny. 

It was, at any rate, after his injury that James turned to the art 
of fiction. His writing served him both as an escape from frustration 
by way of fantasy and as a partial means of solving his problems 
through sublimation. But the fantasied escape proved insufficient, 
and he therefore soon abandoned the American scene that had be- 
come to him intolerable. During most of his life he lived in Eng- 
land. His various novels and tales written both before and after the 
departure from America acquired their notorious peculiarities — 
precious overqualification of style and restraint of sexual passion — 
from the repressed pattern of his life. The acute psychological in- 
sights in which his work abounds sprang in part, however, from the 
introspective vigilance allied with these "defects." 

The Ghost of Henry James 111 

As James began to enter the final third of his life, a resurgence 
of his buried drives occurred. The supernatural stories which be- 
gan to come from his pen during this period testify to this "return 
of the repressed." His ghosts consistently represent an apotheosis 
of the unlived life. This fictional attempt to face again the early 
unsolved problems was followed compulsively by an actual revisit 
to America. As the criminal returns to the scene of his crime, 
James now went back to the haunts of his catastrophe. But the 
neurotic repression failed to yield, and a severe nervous depression 
that expressed his sense of defeat ensued. 

With the outbreak of World War I soon following, when he was 
already over seventy, came a final effort at solution — now not by 
sublimation in fiction, by escape or return, but in relationships to 
the real social world. It is not surprising that a note of overcom- 
pensation was present in these war activities, especially in the as- 
sumption of British citizenship, and that his end was probably 
hastened by his profligate expenditure of energy. But in large meas- 
ure he re-established contact with the realities of his environment 
by these acts and in the same degree he thus succeeded in laying 
the ghost of his unlived past before death overtook him. 

Three wars are thus spanned by the ghost of Henry James: the 
Civil War, which evoked it mortally in his youth; World War I, 
which permitted it to be laid before his death; and World War II, 
which, occurring during the centenary of his birth, recalls it anew 
in the immortal sense. 

1 The coincidence between the accidents of Henry James, Sr., and his son 
Henry is amazingly paralleled by a similar duplication of experience be- 
tween the father and the son William. In this latter case a psychological 
catastrophe rather than a physical injury is involved, but the powerful rela- 
tionship between father and son is again inescapable. For a description of 
the experiences, compare William James, Varieties of Religious Experience, 
pp. 160-61, with the footnote reference to the work of Henry James, Sr. 
{Society: The Redeemed Form of Man, pp. 43 ff.), where the father's case 
of equally sudden terror is recounted. 

Phyllis Greenacre 

Jonathan Swift 

Swift had problems of identity and of identifi- 
cation which were inherent in the strangeness of his birth, with his 
father dying almost as he was conceived. They were increased by 
the relative personal isolation of his childhood, and again reflected 
in the stories of his declining years when with senility already 
engulfing him, he showed an interest in his mirrored image and 
remarked, whether in renunciation or self-definition, "Poor old 
man!" and "I am what I am. I am what I am." In addition to the 
strangeness of his birth, the kidnapping made complications for 
his settling in the gradual way of most children the problem: "This 
is I. My name is such and such. I live here with my mama and 
papa." Then just at the most vulnerable epoch of a child's life, the 
Oedipal period, he was returned to his mother in a different coun- 
try, only to have her disappear again in a few months. The security of 
continuity of relationship, whether to people or to surroundings, was 
not his by Fate. Rather he was the center of a Family Romance, 1 
determined by reality, which might otherwise have remained only a 
powerful fantasy. 

His position throughout childhood was always somewhat anom- 

Jonathan Swift 113 

alous, both in school and in his uncle's family; he was not quite a 
first-class member of the family. At twenty-one he visited his mother 
and at twenty-two he took a position, not clearly defined, in the 
household of Sir William Temple. It must have been rather difficult 
for this young man, who had never lived regularly in a family, to 
find himself in this large and varied menage, kind and considerate 
though the Temples were. Twenty-two is hardly the optimum time 
to be initiated into family relationships and young Swift had many 
difficulties; although he remained with the Temples off and on for 
ten years, he can hardly be said to have been thoroughly at home 
there. It could not make up for the vacuoles in his early life. 

It is to be expected further from the peculiar circumstances of 
his first years that Swift would have grave distortions of his Oedipal 
development and of his castration complex. These clinical results 
which we could predict from the barest events of his life are in- 
deed borne out by his character, his writings, and the course of 
the later life which he carved out for himself. 

Swift's physical health and physical symptoms are worthy of 
notice. It was said by some that he was a premature, frail infant; 
but these are general statements and not clearly documented. The 
mother's struggle with poverty was definite, however. She was not 
superhuman, and we must conclude that there was some disturb- 
ance in her relationship to the infant whose birth so complicated 
her fortunes; but in just what direction is unclear. 

That there was a two-mother situation between the own mother 
and the nurse is also apparent from the basic facts. That there 
was a two-father situation in rumor and in fantasy was indicated 
by the reports of illegitimacy running parallel with remarks that 
the father never knew of the son's conception. One would surmise 
that the question of paternity might well have been raised and was 
to reappear forty-eight years later in the never-solved mystery of 
Swift's alleged marriage, reputedly interrupted by someone reveal- 
ing that Swift and Stella were brother and sister, both the natural 
children of Sir William Temple. Nowhere is there any evidence, 
nor does any one of the Swift biographers support the idea that 
there is real truth in this story. Indeed, it can be proved from his- 
torically established facts that Sir William Temple was in another 


part of the world at the time of the conception of Jonathan Swift. 
That the Temples, both Sir John Temple and his son Sir William, 
knew the Swifts and that Sir John was often in Dublin and was 
instrumental in getting the elder Jonathan Swift an appointment as 
Steward at the King's Inn is also clearly established. This correction 
to the story does not, however, dispose of it in its entirety. Even 
if it is the gossip incident to the peculiar life constellation and char- 
acter of Jonathan Swift and the outcome of the human weakness 
for malicious speculation and drama, still its occurrence and even 
more its persistence has some significance, which cannot be thor- 
oughly abolished by objective correction. It is not clear who is 
supposed to have made the revelations, though the guess was haz- 
arded that it was Rebecca Dingley. The important aspect of the 
situation would seem to be that the story was probably known to 
Swift in one form or another. In other words, it either sprang from 
his fantasy primarily or so corresponded to his latent fantasy that 
he made no apparent effort to investigate or refute it. This matter 
of the Family Romance and the way in which it fits into Swift's 
symptomatology will be taken up again later. 

In the Memoirs of Scriblerus, Swift brings out more play of 
fantasy about birth than is true in his biography of Gulliver. In 
both Scriblerus accounts, the parents had difficulty in begetting a 
child. In one instance, the pregnancy with Martin was preceded 
by an abortion of a female child; in both, they had to resort to 
magic aid. Once the sorceress advised that if the father took seven 
sheets of paper and wrote upon each with seven alphabets of seven 
languages, in such a way that no one letter stood twice in the same 
posture, then clipped all the letters apart and put them in a pillow 
which would be used by the helpful wife to support her in a certain 
position, pregnancy would follow. This fantasy might indicate an 
ironic suggestion of origin from magic thought and/or from per- 
verse relations. 

Both Scriblerus Memoirs report that on the eve of giving birth, 
the mother had a dream that she had given birth to a monstrous 
thing like an inkpot which spirited black liquid in many rivulets 
throughout the room. The sorceress interpreted this dream to mean 
that the "innumerable streams are the types or symbols of [the 

Jonathan Swift 115 

infant's] Genius, and the Extent of it; by them are signifiy'd the 
great Variety of Productions in human Learning, that will render 
him the Admiration and Surprize of all the Universe; as to the 
Spout, it betokens the Sex, and that it will be a Son." When the 
infant was born, he especially enjoyed the rattling of paper, and 
dabbling in ink. Later the nurse announced joyfully that the baby 
had said "Papa," but the father soon determined that the word 
really was "paper." Thus was launched the child who was to be the 
Genius of the Age. 

To return to the matter of Swift's early health, when physical 
comfort so strongly interplays with emotional development — there 
is little knowledge of the period immediately after birth, except 
the implication that his health was not generally good, as it was 
reported that when Abigail Swift discovered the whereabouts of 
her kidnapped son, she sent word that he should not be returned 
until he was well enough to bear the strain of travel better. But 
when this is supposed to have occurred is obscure, and our chief 
source of information is Swift's own scant account which puts as 
good a face on everything as possible. He gave no account of ill- 
ness in his boyhood. Yet by his late adolescence or early manhood 
he had instituted ritualized walking to demonstrate and improve 
his strength. The pictures of him in his maturity show a man of 
unusually fine physique, handsome and stalwart. By the age of 
twenty-two, he was rather frequently complaining of ill-health: 
weakness, pains, stomach-aches (sometimes physical pains and 
sometimes figurative statements of aversion), headaches, and rather 
diffuse body pains. He also developed attacks of dizziness with 
deafness, thought to be Meniere's disease; but attributed by him to 
the eating of "stone fruits." 2 Many of his complaints had to do 
with gastrointestinal disturbances, although he was a hearty eater 
who liked good food. He was extremely fearful of insanity from a 
quite early age; and was reiterating his defiance of death so strongly 
that he seemed to be protesting too much. An oft-repeated state- 
ment was that life was not worth retaining, but health was. In the 
Third Voyage of Gulliver, the problem of the fear of death and its 
cure is presented in the loathsomeness of the immortal creatures, 
the Struldbrugs. 


Swift apparently suffered from severe anxiety and diffuse hypo- 
chondriasis of the type which so often accompanies an unusually 
severe castration complex, in which pregenital determinants are 
strong. Another characteristic of Swift's hypochondriasis was that 
it always increased when he was confronted by sickness in others. 
Then he frequently turned away, in seeming callousness, but gen- 
erally felt worse himself at once. While some of these situations 
were such as to suggest that the illness of another made him feel 
guilty and that he was not a man who could face much guilt, there 
is further the question whether the sight of suffering did not cause 
him to take it onto himself through a process of primary identifica- 
tion. This is defended by Swift in a bitter poem Life and Character 
of Dr. Swift, written in 1731, in which he states, "I could give 
instances enough that Human Friendship is but Stuff, Whene'er 
flatt'ring Puppy cries You are his Dearest Friend ... he lyes. — " 
and later, "True Friendship in two breasts requires The same 
Aversions and Desires; My friend should have, when I complain,, 
A Fellow-feeling for my Pain." A friend should identify com- 
pletely, be a mirror image of one's self. 

What was written so large and so conspicuously in all of his 
impersonal writings, and was dealt with very delicately in his let- 
ters was his vivid preoccupation with the affairs of the lower 
bowel. 3 Gulliver recounts the time, conditions, and utilization of 
his toilet functioning, especially his defecation, with a fidelity 
worthy of a young child on a trip and a little confused about how 
to go about these essential duties. In the Fourth Voyage it is quite 
clear that the foul Yahoos represent the dirty, unrestrained sexual 
people while the Houyhnhnms are the idealized, gentle, reason- 
able ones, the superego figures, possessing all of the reaction for- 
mations against the primitive animal instincts. In some of Swift's 
poems he was particularly outspoken concerning the filthiness of 
the female body. 4 In the Second Voyage of the Travels, it is the 
older nurse (who suckles the year-old child who has in turn been 
threatening the tiny Gulliver) who is described as the most loath- 
some of all creatures. It is at this point in the Travels that Swift 
through Gulliver splits the nurse image into two, creating an over- 
grown foul and smelly wet nurse and a preadolescent protective 

Jonathan Swift 117 

and charming little girl nurse. In general, Gulliver, like Swift, found 
body apertures, even the pores of the skin, disgusting. That this 
hostility is particularly focused on nurses is apparent in other pro- 
ductions as well. In his Directions to the Nurse, he writes : "If you 
happen to let the child fall and lame it, be sure never confess it; 
and if it dies all is safe. Contrive to be with child as soon as you 
can, while you are giving suck, that you may be ready for another 
service when the child you nurse dies or is weaned." In the Mem- 
oirs of Scriblerus, there are similar invectives against the "accursed 
nurse" who, among other things, made the infant's ears "lie forever 
flat and immovable." 5 

A second theme, rather overproduced in Swift's writing and in 
his life as well, is the confusion — determinedly rationalized — be- 
tween the sexes. This appears specifically in his open wish to make 
boys of both Stella and Vanessa; further elaborated in his various 
treatises on Education. Never is there any reference to the prepara- 
tion of girls for motherhood or even for the social demands of the 
day. But there is the often-repeated requirement that their minds 
should be as much like the minds of men as possible, and always 
the exhortation to be cleanly, reasonable, and dispassionate. The 
confusion of the sexes is further apparent in the (several times re- 
peated) description of low-hung breasts and nipples, which ap- 
proximate the male genitalia. With his tendency to the polarization 
of characteristics he tended to deal life into pairs of opposites. He 
would see women as essentially emotional and men as reasonable, 
temperate and just. It was the women who were the dangerous 
seducers and the destroyers of reason. In the country of the 
Houyhnhnms, the horses were male and female, and so were the 
Yahoos; yet predominantly the Yahoos seemed to represent the 
evil, dirty, sexual, female elements, and the horses the honorable, 
lust, deliberate, and gently male elements of character. In a letter, 
Swift even referred to Stella as a Yahoo. To make an advance to 
no one was one of his stated principles of behavior, neither to man 
nor woman. In order that he might be quite safe, others must 
always take the first step toward him. 

Swift was a stalwart, well-built man, with striking blue eyes 
that were sometimes cold and penetrating, and again sparkling and 


merry. Pope described Swift's eyes as being azure as the heavens. 
He was possessed of unusual charm and wit; a suave, adroit man, 
he was sought after in social affairs and as a diner-out, a favorite 
of both men and women. His driving curiosity and ambitions, ex- 
pressed in his many interests, and his furious activities which made 
him time and again the focus of all attention were so thoroughly 
knit into his character that one is likely to forget how much these 
result from primitive scoptophilia and exhibitionism which con- 
tinually alternated and interplayed, the very contrasts increasing 
the dramatic quality of the man. It was to be expected that a 
posthumous child would inevitably be a special child, as much or 
more than is the child with the caul. Certainly too, the kidnapping 
and the life in the home of the nurse in England would tend to 
make him an object of great interest and curiosity. A woman who 
kidnaps a child is in some way a pathological person, with a too 
intense interest in the child whatever its meaning to her may be. 
Further, while there was gossipy rumor about the possible illegiti- 
macy of the infant, born so long after his father's death in Ireland, 
it is only reasonable to assume that such gossip would be even 
stronger in England when the nurse, whether married or not, re- 
turned with this baby after a prolonged absence in Ireland. 

In the Travels, active and passive voyeurism is ubiquitous. Not 
only were the voyages undertaken out of a lust of the eye, intu- 
itively forecast by Gulliver years before their beginning was ration- 
alized as being motivated by economic considerations, but it is also 
clear that the seagoing surgeon found the pressures of family life 
irksome in the extreme. In the First Voyage, Gulliver is an enor- 
mous figure of overwhelming importance, cast up out of the sea, 
and endangering those around him by his very existence. This may 
very well express the primary narcissistic omnipotence of the in- 
fant who did threaten the welfare of those who cared for him. In 
the Second Voyage, he is reduced to a small size among giants, ex- 
pressive of the helplessness of the child and the awareness of his 
small size which must become apparent to an infant between a year 
and eighteen months. 6 In both Voyages, Gulliver is put on exhibit 
for the populace and himself is engaged in noting everything that 
goes on around him. The specific reference to genital exhibitionism 

Jonathan Swift 119 

has already been noted. In general, however, it is conspicuous that 
the exhibitionism is largely expressed in excretory rather than in 
genital sensual or reproductive terms. In the Third Voyage, the 
voyeurism is almost wholly active and in any event is expressed 
largely in social and not in personal corporeal terms. Gulliver does 
reciprocate, giving a short account of the wonders and activities 
of England. 

Perhaps the most fascinating problem of Swift's development 
was the configuration of his Oedipus complex. He had no real 
father on whom to play out his Oedipal development. Indeed his 
Oedipal crime was accomplished by his very conception, after 
which his father died while the son lived, and possessed his mother, 
at least in infancy. Whether or not he found a substitute father 
during the years with the nurse in Whitehaven, he was again con- 
fronted clearly with a fatherless state precisely at the height of 
the developmental Oedipal period. That there was an attempt to 
find a father by an interest in his English ancestors, especially his 
English clergyman grandfather, is probable. The nature of his 
Oedipal crime may well be expressed in the Second Voyage of 
Gulliver in which he is given a temple as a place to stay, which 
had been defiled by the murder of a man many years before. 7 
Gulliver's recalling of the heroic ancestors of history on the Island 
of Glubbdubdrib belongs here. 

At the time when most boys are giving up their sexual longings 
for the mother, Swift's mother left him, and he was presented 
with a collective homosexual existence. It is evident that such a 
concatenation of events would enormously increase feelings of 
guilt from whatever source; and might lead to a reinforcement of 
righteousness and increased effort in the direction of spirituality, 
together with a strong rebellion against the unfairness and hypo- 
critical attitudes often encountered in the church. Other determi- 
nants of this attitude will be dealt with in connection with the 
discussion of the Family Romance. 

His attitude toward the church resembled much the disillusion 
which children ordinarily feel in their parents, and certainly the 
church was quite literally bound up with Swift's forefathers. After 
the age of five, Swift had institutions instead of parents, as he 


passed from school to church to society in general. It is no wonder 
that having "killed" his father by his conception, and lost mothers 
three times before the age of six, he should have accepted the 
protection of the school with chronic suppressed rage and the 
appearance of low-spirited compliance. What were the explana- 
tions regarding his mother and sister made to him during this 
period? What accounts did he hear from Uncle Godwin and his 
cousins? These influences in his childhood are most mysteriously 
hidden. The early death of the father — prehistoric as far as the 
child was concerned — could not help but increase the boy's fear 
of death for himself, according to the law of talion; a fear which 
he met repeatedly by the denial that life was worth having. While 
he cursed his birth picturesquely, he celebrated his birthdays for 
himself and the people close to him faithfully; and he lived be- 
yond the Biblical time allotment. 

That the boy Swift, lonely and disappointed, should have suf- 
fered from masturbation worries is not surprising. Swift, the man, 
wrote seldom of any genital sensuality, but there are at least two 
places in which he makes clear and extensive references, and in 
several others, indirect statements regarding masturbation fantasies 
and castration fears. Most outspoken of these is a report of the 
sagacity of Dr. Martin Scriblerus in treating a young nobleman 
at court who suffered from distempers of the mind. This young 
man began to show affectations of speech, to talk in verse, to 
exhibit a whimsicality of behavior, and to seek odd companions. 
Scriblerus diagnosed him as being in love, but since there was no 
woman involved and the young man talked to himself, the doctor 
determined that the patient was blindly in love with himself. 
"There are people," he said, "who discover from their youth a 
most amorous inclination to themselves," adding later, "There are 
some people who are far gone in this passion of self-love: they 
keep a secret intrigue with themselves and hide it from all the 
world besides. This Patient has not the least care of the Reputa- 
tion of his Beloved, he is downright scandalous in his behavior 
with himself. ..." Scriblerus then proceeds to describe the sort 
of remedies which Swift so often recommended for himself and 
others: that he should give up extravagance; that he should travel 

Jonathan Swift 121 

in relative hardship; look at himself in "naked truth," and purge 
himself weekly. In short, the sufferer should do those things which 
Lucretius had recommended as a cure in the case of women. If 
all this did not avail, nothing was left, said the Doctor, but to 
let the man marry himself and when he had tired of himself, he 
might drown himself in a pond. What a complete version of 

It is to be remembered that the other traveling surgeon had 
his preliminary training under a master named Bates. To quote 
again from Gulliver's own story, "My good Master Bates, dying 
in two years after and I having few friends, my business began 
to fail; for my conscience would not suffer me to imitate the bad 
practice of too many among my brethren." There is the ques- 
tion whether this apparent pun in words can possibly be signifi- 
cant. Swift's peculiar and varied relation to language in which 
punning has a conspicuous place lends support to the notion that 
this might even be a sly conscious trick of self-revelation. This 
seems the more probable in that the location of this explanation 
in the Gulliver account corresponds so closely to that in the 
Memoirs of Scriblerus of the story of the young-nobleman-in-love- 
with-himself. In the earlier Scriblerus version, the confession is 
more explicit but is disowned through the device of attributing the 
disturbance to a patient; in the Gulliver account it is admitted but 
concealed in the pun. The further question might be raised whether 
the word masturbation was known to Swift. From the fact that it 
had appeared as part of a title of a book only a few years after 
Swift's death, we may surmise that it probably had some fairly 
wide usage before this. 8 

The greatest exposition of the masturbation fantasies appears, 
however, in the Third Voyage. Here, after a glorious start, Gul- 
liver was much reduced by the pirates, set adrift in a canoe, and 
fell into great despondency. He finally came to an island which 
was perfectly round in shape, four and one half miles across, and 
floated in the air, rising and falling above the body of the con- 
tinent from which it sometimes shut out the sun. Many of the 
people on this island were so taken up with intense speculation 
that they forgot to speak or pay attention to those around them. 


Consequently, they kept "flappers" who tapped them on the 
mouth, eyes or ears, with blown bladders which were attached 
like flails to the ends of short sticks and contained small quan- 
tities of dried peas or pebbles. As has already been described, 
this island moved up and down to a height of four miles, being 
balanced so delicately on a lodestone that the tenderest hand could 
move it. 9 The island also somewhat controlled the fate of the 
continent of Balnibarbi beneath it, but since it was a place of in- 
tense speculation without reality it had exerted a deleterious influ- 
ence upon Balnibarbi, whose capital city contained a museum of 
magic and fantastic inventions all in a state of incompleteness, 
while the country roundabout was impoverished and miserably 
wasted. The senates and councils were troubled with "redundant, 
ebullient, and other peccant humours, with many diseases of the 
head and more of the heart; with strong convulsions, with griev- 
ous contractions of the nerves and sinews in both hands, but 
especially the right — " etc. etc. Gulliver offered suggestions for 
further additions to their activities, in the establishment of a de- 
partment of informers, spies, prosecutors, witnesses, etc. 

Swift's early life would certainly predispose to the development 
of a stunting bisexuality, as indeed his mature years showed. That 
there was further a fixation at the anal level and an extreme im- 
pairment of genital functioning is indicated in his character and 
his writings. In addition, he tended to absorb friends into his 
service in a demanding and possessive fashion — the infantile oral 
quality of these relationships being partly obscured by the man's 
real genius which could fascinate and command many of those 
around him, so that they wanted the more to be absorbed by him, 
but were likely to find themselves considerably burdened after a 
time. Even Charles Ford, devoted to Swift to the end, seemed 
ultimately to put geographical barriers between himself and the 
older man. Two additional developments within this setting are 
of particular interest, viz., the influence of his special anal char- 
acter on the texture of the Family Romance, which fate deter- 
mined in reality and stimulated in fantasy, and the special nature 
of his relationship to his sister, which in turn left a strong mark 
on his relations with other women. 

Jonathan Swift 123 

On the one hand, he had a prenatal Oedipal situation which 
was finished decisively even before his birth, and on the other, 
the events of the postnatal years made it impossible for him really 
to reach, much less to conclude, any substitute Oedipal relation- 
ship at the appropriate period of his development. Parents seemed 
simply to disappear at the most critical junctures of his life. There 
seems little doubt but that the young child was aware that he 
was not the son of the nurse during his early stay in England, a 
situation in which fantasies about his origin would inevitably have 
arisen. On his return to Ireland, to his mother and sister, he must 
have had memories and fantasies regarding the family he had left 
in England. And again in a few months, he had neither of these 
families and was left only with the memories of both. No wonder 
then that he was resentful of his uncle and became a depressed, 
unproductive, and submissive child. 

The anal stamp of his character can only have been established 
during the period with the nurse in England. It appeared vividly 
and compellingly throughout his life, in a direct form in his writ- 
ing and in strong reaction formations of excessive cleanliness and 
stern ideals in his personal life and speech — so stern, however, as 
to destroy any acceptance of that margin of genitophallic interest 
which would otherwise have survived the prohibitive Oedipal situ- 
ation. It is amply clear from the illustrations already given that 
Swift considered the spoken word and the written word as miles 
apart. The spoken word was airy, pure, and of the spirit, a quality 
which he attributed further especially to vowels. The written 
word was often discharged in secret and disclaimed until it had 
proved itself — and appeared "fathered by another," as he once 
wrote. He considered the vowels as "airy little creatures all of 
different voice and features." By contrast the proper names in 
Gulliver's Travels are heavy with repeated consonants and dupli- 
cated syllables overburdened by consonants, e.g., Glubbdubdrib, 
Luggnagg, Traldragdubh, Glumdalclitch, Clumegnig. These words 
suggest an onomatopoeic derivation from the sound of drippings 
and droppings, possibly originating in the overly intense preoccu- 
pation with toilet functions, which seemed for the child Jonathan 
to engulf and then to color his important infantile philosophies. 


In addition to these klang and repetitive associations, one should 
note the great tendency that Swift had to play with words, to 
pun in a way that would conceal and tell at the same time. He 
clearly made combined identifications through names which func- 
tion as in dreams to condense associative connections. The orig- 
inal Journal to Stella (1710-1713) which has been much edited 
in most of its published forms reveals Swift's language in its most 
infantile oral qualities of endearment, in which "you" is "oo," 
"dearest" is "dealest," r's and l's get strangely mixed up, and the 
effect is of a lisping child saying good night in a seductive way, 
as for example: "Nite dealest richar M.D. Sawey dealest M.D. 
M.D. M.D. FW, FW, FW ME, ME Poo Pdfr. Lele, lele, lele." 
The Journal is replete with such passages. We shall not translate 
it all. Swift himself said, "When I am writing in our language, I 
make up my mouth just as if I were speaking it." "Our richar 
Gangridge" is "our little language." Of the abbreviations, "M.D." 
stood for "My dears," "FW" meant either "farewell" or "foolish 
wenches," "ME" stood for "Madame Elderly" (i.e., Dingley); 
"Pdfr" was "poor dear foolish rogue" Swift, and "Ppt" stood for 
"Poor pretty thing" Stella. 10 The "little language" was predomi- 
nantly baby talk, mixed however with simple code and "pig Latin" 
contrivances so characteristic of the prepuberty years. 

It seems possible that the names "Yahoo" and "Houyhnhnm" 
are peculiarly condensed "nonsense words," having profoundly 
to do with Gulliver's effort to find himself, i.e., to achieve some 
integration of his own identity; and that Yahoo signifies "Who are 
you?" and Houyhnhnm, the sound of which is close to that of 
"human" contains also suggestions of the pronouns "you" and 
"him" and "who" in a jumbled pig-Latin fashion. It is on this 
voyage that Gulliver is forced to admit his primitive dirty attrac- 
tions, but attempts to save himself through adopting the rational- 
ity of the Houyhnhnms. 

The Family Romance has been regarded as occurring in chil- 
dren who are especially strongly attached to the parents and are 
sexually active and imaginative, yet full of resentment and retalia- 
tory impulses against the parents who have been prohibiting the 
child's sexual practices. Seeing that the parents indulge in pre- 

Jonathan Swift 125 

cisely these activities, which had been labeled as bad and pun- 
ished in the child, the child suffers disillusionment and is moved 
to repudiate the parents. He then adopts new, unsexual and lofty 
parents, to fortify the self and devaluate the parents. There is then 
a kind of masked reversal of the generations out of revenge, but 
as Freud remarks in his original article on this subject, the en- 
nobled or elevated "adopted" parents really represent the original 
estimate of the own parents. 

It has been the observation of the author that the Family Ro- 
mance has been furthered in a particularly severe and sometimes 
malignant form in children whose genital development and Oedipal 
problem have been gravely distorted by severe anal fixations, and 
also in those who have had such overpowering and usually anxious 
mothers that the development of the early ego has been possible 
only through an early negativistic attitude, an ego organization 
through opposition, which follows an overly strong attempt at ab- 
sorption by the mother. In some instances indeed, the early ego 
negativism and the anal fixation combine — exactly the same sort 
of anxiously demanding and protective mother tending to promote 
both in a basically strong and well-endowed child. 

Children with emphatic theories of anal birth, like Swift, and 
with nursery ethics based on approval focused on matters of the 
toilet, not infrequently utilize their interest in the stool and its 
smell or gaseous image (as thought or memory) as representative 
of bad and good, dirty and godly, black and white, low and high, 
etc. This dichotomizing joins directly with the Family Romance. 
The foundling, the adopted child — the one not born of the real 
parents — is either the child of the gypsies abandoned by them or 
the royal child that has been stolen by them. This theme recurs 
so often in literature as to bear witness to its universality and its 
importance. 11 Swift almost never wrote or spoke of his father, other 
than to remark that the father lived long enough to secure his 
mother's reputation. Obviously the fantasy of bastardy is here at 
hand, under the mask of humor. His own father had been unsuc- 
cessful and abandoned his family by death and by poverty. Neither 
did Swift write of the nurse except in the indirect ways already 
quoted. On the other hand, Sir William Temple, the ambassador 


and man of the world, emerges quite clearly as the noble, illus- 
trious father, with Swift's own clergyman grandfather as an earlier 
and lest satisfactory version. 

It is known that Swift's relationship with his mother remained 
cordial throughout and that he visited her even at the expense of 
making tedious trips on horseback or by stage on his journeys to 
England. In spite of this she plays little part in his letters, and 
the one preserved anecdote is an indication of her reversed Oedi- 
pal attachment to her son. The year of her death, when he was 
forty-two, Swift began his Journal to Stella, a curious mixture of 
the memoir type of chronicle of worldly activities and a highly 
personal communication involving the "little language" which was 
made up partly of baby talk and partly of abbreviations. 

In all the biographies, Jane Swift appears as but a shadow in 
her brother's life. She was about two years older than Jonathan. 
We first get a definite statement about her, however, when it is 
mentioned that she was a member of the Temple household along 
with Jonathan when he was twenty-two. One of Swift's cousins 
mentions hostility between the brother and sister, and praises the 
mother's attitude of fairness between the two. Yet it seems likely 
that some fantasied image of his sister influenced Swift in the selec- 
tion of the three women who were to play important parts in his 
life. The first girl to whom he was definitely attached, and the 
only one whom he wished to marry, was named Jane and was the 
sister or cousin 12 of a college friend. The other two, Stella and 
Vanessa, both actually named Hester, were the daughters of wid- 
ows, even as the first Jane (Varina) and his sister Jane were. 
Although all three young women were considerably younger than 
he, he tended to state the ages of Stella and Vanessa as two (or 
more) years older than they were, and also occasionally made 
them younger. His attachment to them contained a very large de- 
gree of identification, as is shown in his wish to make boys of 
them both, and his repetition of his own history with them: play- 
ing the teacher nurse who must instruct them in cleanliness, in 
reading and writing, and improve their minds generally. With 
Stella, he even so closely reproduced his own situation as to ab- 
duct her in charge of a nurse so that she would live near him in 

Jonathan Swift 127 

Ireland. In the meantime, he sent his widowed sister Jane to live 
with Stella's mother in England. It seemed that some change over- 
took Swift after his break with Jane Waring (which came at the 
time of Temple's death). With the denial of any hope for this 
marriage, the identification with the woman or with an intermedi- 
ate sex became stronger. (Such identification is certainly more 
frequently the outcome of a disastrously strong Oedipal attach- 
ment with the deformation of character and ideals occurring either 
at about six years or at puberty. In Swift the whole problem was 
delayed and complicated.) Possibly complete impotence overtook 
him then. This, to be sure, is not certain, but is suggested by a few 
references and especially by his behavior. Stella and Vanessa were 
both named Hester — which seems possibly an extra determinant 
for sister, this being the more probable since Swift was so moved 
by alliterative sounds and puns. The sister theme is unmistakably 
clear in the account of the blocking of the marriage between Swift 
and Stella, which was to be a marriage in form only, anyway. 

Reconstructive interpretations regarding the events of the life, 
especially events of the first years of a man who has been dead 
more than two hundred years, may offend many. Yet the offense 
probably consists in the suggestion by deduction that certain actual 
events did occur, as indicated by the known characteristics, prob- 
lems and repetitive actions, supported by the memory traces which 
remain in so many disguised forms. We are generally less cautious 
and less perturbed concerning the reverse, namely speculations re- 
garding the effects of known experiences — perhaps because we 
have such a respect for the objectivity of "factual" data (although 
it is often misremembered and subjectively distorted) and are less 
respectful toward the personality traits and attitudes, which must 
be described rather than enumerated. Yet sometimes these char- 
acteristics are of such a nature that the experienced psychoanalyst 
knows just as definitely as the internist observing later sequelae of 
tuberculosis or poliomyelitis, that the deformity is the result of 
specific attacks upon the young organism, not by invading bac- 
teria, but through the agencies of those who have nurtured and 
trained the infant. 

So it was with the "anal quality" of Swift's character: his great 


personal immaculateness, his secretiveness, his intense ambition, 
his pleasure in less obvious dirtiness, his stubborn vengefulness in 
righteous causes. Such traits of character develop only where the 
early control of the excretory functions has been achieved under 
too great stress and often too early. The effect is of a stratum of 
anxious preoccupation with these functions and their products and 
derivatives throughout the entire life. 

We are justified in concluding that the kidnapping nurse, how- 
ever devoted to her little charge, was in some way overly consci- 
entious and harsh in her early toilet training, and left this stamp 
of the nursery morals of the chamber pot forever on his character. 
That she was ambitious for his intellectual development is indi- 
cated by Swift's own belief that on his return to England at about 
four, he already could read any chapter of the Bible. Whether or 
not this was literally true, we must probably accept it as an indi- 
cation both of the child's basic endowment and of the nurse's 
readiness to develop precocious intellect in him. A kind of Unking 
of the written or printed word with the excretory functions — the 
two were being mastered and gotten into usable order at the same 
time — is dramatically apparent in Swift's writing as in the illus- 
trations already given. But when these educative achievements of 
intellect are being urged or forced before the emotional energy 
is sufficiently freed from attention to bodily preoccupation, the 
latter invade the former and the two are indissolubly linked. Words 
then become endowed with animate qualities, have magic and per- 
sonalized meanings, and the functioning of speech, reading, and 
writing may become precociously overly emotionalized and conse- 
quently vulnerable to conflictful problems, which produce block- 
ings. We are used to seeing this in spoken language, in the vicissi- 
tudes of stuttering and other speech defects; but with Swift it is 
clear that such an emotional battleground was shifted to the written 
and the printed word. "I am very angry," wrote Swift to Arbuthnot 
in 1714, "I have a mind to be very angry and to let my anger 
break out in some manner that will not please them, at the end 
of a pen." When Swift was angry but trying to please "them," as 
in his school days at Kilkenny, he did not break out with a pen, 
but was compliant, depressed and even thought to be a little stupid. 

Jonathan Swift 129 

That the infant Jonathan lived in close bodily intimacy with 
the nurse, to such a degree and with such continuity as to pro- 
duce a tendency to overidentify with the woman is strongly indi- 
cated, the problem of anatomical differences never being solved 
with any ordinary degree of stability, and met later by fear of the 
female body or attempts to endow the girl with masculine attri- 
butes, if she is to be in the least either desirable or endurable. 
This was spoken and written boldly by the adult Swift in his 
rearings of Stella and of Vanessa, in his admonitions to other young 
ladies seeking his advice, and in his frequent dissertations on edu- 
cation. This demand that the girl should be masculine could be 
outspoken in the realm of the mind and emotions, but could not 
be as specifically stated concerning the body. Here it appeared 
clearly in a negative form: the emphasis on the dirtiness and re- 
pulsiveness of the body apertures, of which the woman possesses 
one more, and that a conspicuous one, than the man. To Swift, 
every body aperture, even the pores of the skin, became on occa- 
sion a suggestion of anus. That in unconscious or preconscious 
fantasy Swift sometimes tended to phallacize the woman and to 
identify the entire body of the child with the female phallus, is 
apparent in a careful reading of Gulliver: the oversize maidens 
make sport with the tiny man by setting him astride their nipples 
and bouncing him there; the women similarly have their fun by 
blowing him in his canoe back and forth upon a narrow channel 
which has been constructed for him; the little girl nurse carries 
him in a box on her lap; one time he slips through the fingers of 
a lady who is handling him and falls in such a way as to get 
caught in her stomacher from which he dangles in a peculiar 

This identification of the male with the female phallus is char- 
acteristic of the transvestite. While we have no indication of Swift's 
showing any well-marked transvestite pressures, it is possible that 
his accepting the robes of the Anglican priest included such a 
hidden tendency in a way which was acceptable and could be 
fairly well integrated into his life. Certainly his almost ritualistically 
compressed demands of the women who were to be close to him, 
that they should be of intermediate sex, eschewing feminine adorn- 


ment and cultivating masculine minds; his attempts to convert 
them somehow into replicas of himself as a child, while he played 
the part of the nurse, teaching them how to read and write and 
keep cleanly bodies — all this has the stamp of fetishism, although 
he was probably not a fetishist in the ordinary sense of the word. 
That Swift was continually obsessed with body imagery which 
formed the almost ever-present backdrop for his moralizing satire 
can be readily demonstrated. Such a quotation as that given by 
Bullitt at the opening of his book is significant: 

To this End, I have some Time since, with a World of Pains 
and Art, dissected the carcass of Humane Nature, and read many 
useful Lectures upon the several Parts, both Containing and 
Contained; till at last it smelt so strong I could preserve it no 
longer. Upon which I have been at great Expense to fit up all the 
Bones with exact Contexture and in due Symmetry; so that I am 
ready to show a very compleat Anatomy thereof to all curious 
Gentlemen and others. 

It is quite appropriate that Bullitt's book on Swift is subtitled 
"The Anatomy of Satire." Swift wrote satirically to prove that 
the stomach is the seat of honor. 

I will say that a writer's stomach, appetite and victuals may be 
judged from his method, style and subject as certainly as if you 
were his mess-fellow and sat at table with him. Hence we call a 
subject dry, a writer insipid, notions crude and undigested, a 
pamphlet empty and hungry, a style jejune, — and many such- 
like expressions, plainly alluding to the diet of an author. . . . 

[Or:] Air being a heavy Body and therefore . . . continually 
descending, must needs be more so, when loaden and pressed 
down by words; which are also Bodies of much Weight and 
Gravity, as it is manifest from those deep Impressions they make 
and leave upon us, and therefore must be delivered from a due 
altitude, or else they will neither carry a good aim nor Fall down 
with a sufficient force . . . [Swift's satirical account of the "Sys- 
tem of Epicurus"]. 

That somewhere in the course of the intimate association of 
the infant Jonathan with the anonymous nurse, things took a 
marked turn for the worse in the development of the child's attach- 
ment is probably indicated in the Second Voyage of Gulliver: 

Jonathan Swift 131 

here, it will be remembered, Gulliver is no longer the oversize 
important and threatening figure which he has been on his First 
Voyage, but is now diminutive, helpless, and himself endangered 
among giants. It is in this land of Brobdingnag that the disgusting 
nurse appears and, to quote Gulliver, she was carrying 

a child of a year old in her arms, who immediately spied me and 
began a squall that you might have heard from London Bridge to 
Chelsea after the usual oratory of infants, to get me for a play- 
thing. The mother, out of pure indulgence, took me up and put 
me toward the child, who presently seized me by the middle and 
got my head in his mouth where I roared so loud that the urchin 
was frighted and let me drop. I should infallibly have broke my 
neck if the mother had not held her apron under me. The nurse 
to quiet the babe made use of a rattle . . . but all in vain. — She 
was forced to apply the last remedy by giving it suck. I must con- 
fess no object ever disgusted me so much as the sight of her 
monstrous breast which I cannot tell what to compare with, so 
as to give the curious reader an idea of its bulk, shape, and color. 
It stood prominent six foot and could not be less than sixteen in 
circumference. The nipple was about half the bigness of my head, 
and the hue both of that and the dug so varified, with spots, pim- 
ples and freckles that nothing could appear more nauseous: for 
I had a near sight of her, she sitting down the more conveniently 
to give suck, and I standing on the table. This made me reflect 
upon the fair skins of our English ladies who appear so beautiful 
to us — only because they are our own size, and their defects not 
to be seen but through a magnifying glass where we find by ex- 
periment that the smoothest and whitest skins look rough, coarse, 
and ill-colored. 

It was after this that Gulliver was adopted and protected by the 
little girl nurse, not yet at puberty, who so charmingly carried him 
every place with her in a small box made for him. 

The passage just quoted depicts rather bitterly Gulliver's plight 
of finding himself with the tables turned — small, threatened, not 
only by the adults but by a year-old child, suckled by the loath- 
some nurse. The description of the breast certainly contains ele- 
ments of breast awe and envy turned to loathing and with the 
consequent aim of degrading it. The age of the threatening infant 
is just the age at which Swift himself was kidnapped and the age 
at which according to Swift's Modest Proposal, the infants of the 


poor should be eaten by the rich. It is not chance either, that 
the tiny Gulliver is in danger of being eaten by the infant, or that 
he scrupulously recalls in the next breath, as it were, that in the 
days of his bigness, his own pores and his stubbly beard were 
seen as disgusting. What would appear to be back of this re- 
markable passage is that the nurse became pregnant after her 
return to England and in due time had a child whose suckling 
upset the infant Jonathan, and aroused in him intensest jealousy, 
biting resentment and cannibalistic feelings toward the infant — 
projected by Gulliver as felt toward him by the infant. This too 
is connected then with Swift's Modest Proposal with which he was 
to fight the battles of the depressed Irish families with satirical fury 
nearly sixty years later. This thought of benign cannibalism was, 
however, in the background of Swift's mind quite consciously for 
many years, as he refers to it in the Scriblerus period (1711-1714). 

The image of the disgusting nurse's breast carried with it fear, 
and a sense of its similarity to a pregnant abdomen and to an 
adult phallus. That this combined image is rendered less danger- 
ous by being degraded and fecalized is suggested in the passage 
already quoted. It appears that when Swift refers to the nipple 
as the dug, which he does when he is disgusted, the word itself is 
very close to the word dung. Later, in the Second Voyage, the bad 
nurse reappears and in a male form, as the evil, kidnapping mon- 
key who drags the diminutive Gulliver out of his little house, and 
holding him "as a nurse does a child she is going to suckle," 
squeezed him very hard, stroked his face, and probably mistook 
him for a very young monkey, later cramming food into his mouth 
from a bag at one side of the monkey's chaps and patting him 
when he could not eat — the whole spectacle appearing so ridicu- 
lous that the onlookers burst into laughter; the vile stuff having 
to be picked out by the amiable little girl nurse. Gulliver was ex- 
ceedingly sick after this, and the monkey was executed by royal 
decree. This appears clearly to be a homosexual fellatio fantasy, 
the reverberation of which appeared in Swift's own life in his sick- 
ness from "too much stone fruit" at a time when he was first 
drawn to Sir William Temple. 

Two other assaults were made on the helpless Gulliver by evil 

Jonathan Swift 133 

male creatures, in this same period: one by a deformed dwarf 
encountered in the Queen's garden and unwittingly insulted by 
Gulliver, who naively commented on his bodily distortion. The 
dwarf in revenge shook the apple tree under which Gulliver sat 
so that the enormous fruit knocked him flat as he was stooping 
over. Another time, a huge frog hopped into Gulliver's little boat 
as he was navigating it in his trough, and hopping back and forth 
over him, deposited its odious slime upon his face and clothing. 
The largeness of the frog's features made it appear the most de- 
formed animal that could be conceived. Gulliver finally fought 
with this ugly creature and succeeded in ridding himself of it. 
Gulliver himself was not without responsibility for some of his 
animal encounters in this period, especially those with birds. On 
one occasion he grabbed a swan-sized linnet by the neck with 
both his hands. The enraged bird beat him around the head with 
its wings, but was subdued with the help of one of the Queen's 
servants and subsequently served for dinner. All these adventures 
are suggestive of further homosexual fantasies and possible inci- 
dents, first involving a confusion of breast and phallus, and later 
taking on other configurations of contact. 

This study of Swift was stimulated by an interest in fetishism 
and the part played in its development by sensations of instability 
of body size. It is pertinent then to make some brief further ref- 
erences to these questions here. There is no indication that Swift 
was an overt fetishist, although he shares much in the structure 
of his personality with those who develop the manifest symptom. 
The anal fixation was intense and binding, and the genital response 
so impaired and limited at best, that he was predisposed to later 
weakness. A retreat- from genital sexuality did actually occur in 
his early adult life, probably beginning with the unhappy relation- 
ship to Jane Waring, the first of the goddesses. After this he never 
again seemed willingly to consider marriage, while his expressed 
demands were that the women who were closest to him should be 
as much like boys as possible. His genital demands were probably 
partly sublimated through his creative writings, but even these 
showed the stamp of his strong anal character. He did not need a 
fetish because he resigned from physical genitality. In a sense, his 


converting of the women of his choice into boys fulfilled a fetish- 
istic need. Especially Stella was to be the faithful, dependable, un- 
changing bisexualized object, a cornerstone for his life. With her 
death he began to go to pieces. 

Lemuel Gulliver went a step further than his creator in that 
he was a married man, who was however continually escaping 
from his marriage which was so predominantly disgusting to him , 
though his periodic sojourns at home sufficed sometimes for the 
depositing of a child with his wife. From his descriptions, how- 
ever, this hardly seemed an act of love or even of mutual interest. 
The Travels appear as the acting out of Lemuel's masturbatory 
fantasies, which, like the character of Swift, are closely interwoven 
with anal preoccupations and ambitions rather than with genital 

The problem of changes in body size (expressed as fact in the 
Travels rather than merely as sensations) based on phallic func- 
tioning are reflected characteristically onto the total body, 13 much 
reinforced by observations of pregnancy, and especially by the 
theme of reversal of the generations which is very strong. There 
is less substitution of other body parts for the phallus than is to 
be seen in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, although there are 
some disguised references in the Third Voyage, in which the phallic 
problems are expressed in the medium of thought rather than in 
that of the body itself. 

1 The Family Romance is a term used for the frequent childhood fantasy 
that the child is not born of his own parents, but has been adopted, and is 
really a waif or kidnapped baby, whether of high or low origin. 

2 Jane Swift suffered from progressive deafness also and during her later 
years was almost totally deaf. 

3 In one of his letters to Charles Ford, Swift complained bitterly of hemor- 
rhoids, but in general he was personally reticent about the state of his 
bowels in contrast to his complaints of other bodily infirmities. 

4 For a few examples, see A Pastoral Dialogue, The Lady's Dressing 
Room, A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed, Strephon and Chloe, and 

5 Probably a reference to impotence — both genital and auditory. I. F. 
Grant-Duff points out the connection between the ears and the genitals in a 
passage in A Tale of a Tub — "if there be a protuberancy of parts in the 
superior region of the body, as in the ears and nose, there must be a parity 

Jonathan Swift 135 

also in the inferior; and therefore in that truly pious age, the males in every 
assembly — appeared very forward in exposing their ears to view, and the 
regions about them, because Hyppocrates tells us that when the vein behind 
the ear happens to be cut a man becomes a eunuch; and the females were 
nothing backwarder in beholding and edifying by them." 

That almost any part of the body might temporarily become phallicized 
is apparent in other passages of the satire. 

6 A further possible determinant of this will be suggested in the recon- 
struction of the Whitehaven period of Swift's childhood. 

7 Since he further attempted to make some substitution of Sir William 
Temple for his lost father, only to come to bitterness, it is possible that this 
temple of Gulliver's is an unconscious reference to this. Not only had Swift 
"killed" his father by his birth, but Temple's son had committed suicide — 
i.e., murdered himself. 

8 Masturprate and masturprator appear as early forms of the word, of un- 
certain derivation. Masturbation appears in the title of a book by Hume in 

9 Professor Marjorie Nicolson has given us a most interesting picture of 
the scientific background of these constructions, and states, "This was no 
haphazard or fortuitous piece of fancy; the constructive and rational mind 
of Swift never worked more coolly than during its composition." The utiliza- 
tion of those current scientific fantasies of Swift's day seems to us absolutely 
in keeping with elaborated masturbation fantasies, which may occur de- 
tached from masturbation or with the peculiarly prolonged and sometimes 
incomplete masturbation of the latency period in children who have espe- 
cially little resolution of the Oedipus complex. The child, in the latency 
period, is especially involved with understanding the mechanics of the world 
around him, and when this is combined with his unresolved masturbation 
urges, the fantasies of the mechanics of the body are combined with un- 
usual intensity with similar ones regarding external objects and surround- 
ings. Such thinking may last throughout life and is sometimes valuably pro- 
ductive. That Swift saw the dangers of these ruminations limited to mas- 
turbatory states is obvious from his descriptions of the Laputans. 

10 For discussion of the "little language," see Ehrenpreis. 

11 Cf. Prince and the Pauper and H.M.S. Pinafore. 

12 It is not clear whether the supposition that Jane Waring was the sister 
of Swift's roommate at Trinity (which is stated as a fact in the earlier biog- 
raphies), was due to the assumption of the biographers or to Swift's refer- 
ring to her in this way. Examination of the accounts of the Waring family 
indicate that she was probably a cousin. 

13 This was especially emphasized in Ferenczi's early article on the "Gulli- 
ver Fantasies." 

Erich Fromm 

Franz Kafka 

An outstanding example of a work of art 
written in symbolic language is Kafka's The Trial. As in so many 
dreams, events are presented, each of which is in itself concrete 
and realistic; yet the whole is impossible and fantastic. The novel, 
in order to be understood, must be read as if we listened to a 
dream — a long complicated dream in which external events hap- 
pen in space and time, being representations of thoughts and feel- 
ings within the dreamer, in this case the novel's hero, K. 

The novel begins with a somewhat startling sentence: "Some- 
one must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having 
done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." x 

K., we might say, begins the dream with an awareness that he 
is "arrested." What does "arrested" mean? It is an interesting 
word which has a double meaning. To be arrested can mean to 
be taken into custody by police officers and to be arrested can 
mean to be stopped in one's growth and development. An accused 
man is-'^arrested" by the police, and aiTorganism is "arrested" in 
its normal development. Th e man ifest^ story uses "arrested" in 
the former sense. Its symbolic meaning, L however, isjobe under- 

Franz Kafka 137 

stood in the latter. K. has an awareness Jh at he is a rrested and 
blocked ifThls own development 

— frr~a masterful little paragraph, Kafka explains why K. was 
arrested. This is how K. spent his life: "That spring K. had been 
accustomed to pass his evenings in this way: after work whenever 
possible — he was usually in his office until nine — he would take 
a short walk, alone or with some of his colleagues, and then go 
to a beer hall, where until eleven he sat at a table patronized 
mostly by elderly men. But there were exceptions to this routine, 
when, for instance, the Manager of the Bank, who highly valued 
his diligence and reliability, invited him for a drive or for dinner 
at his villa. And once a week K. visited a girl called Elsa, who 
was on duty all night till early morning as a waitress in a cabaret 
and during the day received her visitors in bed." 

It was an empty, routinized life, sterile, without love and with- 
out productiveness. Indeed, he was arrested, and he heard the 
voice of his conscience tell him of his arrest and of the danger 
that threatened his personality. 

The second sentence tells us that "his landlady's cook, who 
always brought him his breakfast at eight o'clock, failed to appear 
on this occasion. That had never happened before." This detail 
seems unimportant. In fact, it is somewhat incongruous that after 
the startling news of his arrest such a trivial detail as his breakfast 
not having come should be mentioned; but, as in so many dreams, 
this seemingly insignificant detail contains important information 
about K.'s character. K. was a man with a "receptive orientation." 
All his strivings went in the direction of wanting to receive from 
others — never to give or to produce. 2 

He was dependent on others, who should feed him, take care 
of him, and protect him. He was still a child dependent on his 
mother — expecting everything from her help, using her and manip- 
ulating her. As is characteristic of people of this orientation, his 
main concern was to be pleasant and nice so that people, and in 
particular women, would give him what he needed; and his greatest 
fear was that people might become angry and withhold their gifts. 
The source of all good was believed to be outside, and the prob- 
lem of living was to avoid the risk of losing the good graces of 


this source. The result is an absence of the feeling of his own 
strength and intense fear of being threatened with desertion by 
the person or persons whom he is dependent upon. 

K. did not know who accused him or what he was accused of. 
He asked: "Who could these men be? What were they talking 
about? What authority could they represent?" A little later, when 
he talked with the "Inspector," a man higher up in the hierarchy 
of the court, the voice became somewhat more articulate. K. asked 
him all sorts of questions having nothing to do with the main 
question of what he was accused of, and in answering him the 
Inspector made a statement which contained one of the most im- 
portant insights that could be given K. at that point — and for that 
matter to anyone who is troubled and seeks help. The Inspector 
said, "However, if I can't answer your questions, I can at least 
give you a piece of advice; think less about us and of what is to 
happen to you, think more about yourself instead." K. did not 
understand the Inspector's meaning. He did not see that the prob- 
lem was within himself, that he was the only one who could save 
him, and the fact that he could not accept the Inspector's advice 
indicated his ultimate defeat. 

This first scene of the story closes with another statement by 
the Inspector which throws a great deal of light on the nature 
of the accusation and of the arrest. "You'll be going to the Bank 
now, I suppose?" "To the Bank?" asked K. "I thought I was 
under arrest? . . . How can I go to the Bank, if I am under 
arrest?" "Ah, I see," said the Inspector, who had already reached 
the door. "You have misunderstood me. You are under arrest, 
certainly, but that need not hinder you from going about your 
business. You won't be hampered in carrying on the ordinary 
course of your life." "Then being arrested isn't so very bad," said 
K., going up to the Inspector. "I never suggested that it was," 
said the Inspector. "But in that case it would seem there was no 
particular necessity to tell me about it," said K., moving still 

Realistically, this could hardly happen. If a man is arrested, 
he is not permitted to continue his business life as usual nor in 
fact, as we see later, any of his other ordinary activities. This 

Franz Kafka 139 

strange arrangement expressed symbolically that his business activ- 
ities and everything else he did were of such a nature as not really 
to be touched by his arrest as a human being. Humanely speaking, 
he was almost dead, but he could continue his life as a bank 
official just the same, because this activity was completely sepa- 
rated from his existence as a human being. 

K^had a vague awareness that he was wasting his life and 
rotting^away fast. "From here on, the wfioTe novel deals with his 
reaction to this awareness and with the efforts he makes to de- 
fend and to save himself. The outcome was tragic; although he 
heard the voice of his conscience, he did not understand it. Jfos 
stead of trying to understand the real reason for his arrest, he 
tefided to escape from any such awareness. Instead of helping 
himself in the only way he could help himself — by recognizing 
the truth and trying to change — he sought help where it could 
not be found — on the outside, from others, from clever lawyers, 
from women whose "connections" he could use, always protest- 
ing his innocence and silencing the voice that told him he was 

Perhaps he could have found a solution had it not been for 
the fact that his moral sense was confused. He knew only one 
kind of moral law: the strict authority whose basic commandment 
was "You must obey." He knew only the "authoritarian con- 
science," to which obedience is the greatest virtue and disobedi- 
ence the greatest crime. He hardly knew that there was another 
kind of conscience — the humanistic conscience — which is our own 
voice calling us back to ourselves. 3 

In the novel, both kinds of conscience are represented sym- 
bolically: the humanistic conscience by the Inspector and later by 
the Priest; the authoritarian conscience by the court, the judges, 
the assistants, the crooked lawyers, and all others connected with 
the case. K.'s tragic mistake was that, although he heard the voice 
of his humanistic conscience, he mistook it for the voice of the 
authoritarian conscience and defended himself against the accus- 
ing authorities, partly by submission and partly by rebellion, when 
he should have fought for himself in the name of his humanistic 


The "court" is described as despotic, corrupt and filthy; its pro- 
cedure not based on reason or justice. The kind of lawbooks the 
judges used (shown him by the wife of an attendant) were a sym- 
bolic expression of this corruption. They were old dog-eared vol- 
umes, the cover of one was almost completely split down the 
middle, the two halves were held together by mere threads. "How 
dirty everything is here!" said K., shaking his head, and the 
woman had to wipe away the worst of the dust with her apron 
before K. would put out his hand to touch the books. He opened 
the first of them and found an indecent picture. A man and a 
woman were sitting naked on a sofa, the obscene intention of the 
draftsman was evident enough, yet his skill was so small that noth- 
ing emerged from the picture save the all-too-solid figures of a 
man and a woman sitting rigidly upright and, because of the bad 
perspective, apparently finding the utmost difficulty even in turn- 
ing toward each other. K. did not look at any of the other pages, 
but merely glanced at the title page of the second book. It was a 
novel entitled, How Grete Was Plagued by Her Husband Hans. 
"These are the lawbooks that are studied here," said K. "These 
are the men who are supposed to sit in judgment on me." 

Another expression of the same corruption was that the attend- 
ant's wife was used sexually by one of the judges and one of the 
law students and that neither she nor her husband was permitted 
to protest. There is an element of rebelliousness in K.'s attitude 
toward the Court and a deep sympathy in the Law-Court Attend- 
ant who, after having given K. "a confidential look such as he had 
not yet ventured in spite of all his friendliness," said, "A man can't 
help being rebellious." But the rebelliousness alternated with sub- 
mission. It never dawned upon K. that the moral law is not rep- 
resented by. tEeTIuthl3TJ taTiair^oun _but by nisHowiTlxmscience. 

To say that this idea never dawnsupoiT him Tffould not be 
quite correct. Once toward the end of his journey he came as 
close to the truth as he ever did. He heard the voice of his human- 
istic conscience represented by the priest in the Cathedral. He 
had gone to the Cathedral to meet a business acquaintance to 
whom he was to show the city, but this man had not kept the 
appointment and K. found himself alone in the Cathedral, a little 

Franz Kafka 141 

forlorn and puzzled until suddenly an unambiguous and inescapa- 
ble voice cried: "Joseph K.!" 

K. started and stared at the ground before him. For the mo- 
ment he was still free, he could continue on his way and vanish 
through one of the small dark wooden doors that faced him at no 
great distance. It would simply indicate that he had not under- 
stood the call, or that he had understood it and did not care. But 
if he were to turn round he would be caught, for that would 
amount to an admission that he had understood it very well, that 
he was really the person addressed, and that he was ready to 
obey. Had the priest called his name a second time K. would cer- 
tainly have gone on, but since there was a persistent silence, 
though he stood waiting a long time, he could not help turning 
his head a little just to see what the priest was doing. The priest 
was standing calmly in the pulpit as before, yet it was obvious 
that he had observed K.'s turn of the head. It would have been 
like a childish game of hide-and-seek if K. had not turned right 
round to face him. He did so, and the priest beckoned him to 
come nearer. Since there was now no need for evasion, K. hur- 
ried back — he was both curious and eager to shorten the inter- 
view — with long flying strides toward the pulpit. At the first rows 
of seats he halted, but the priest seemed to think the distance still 
too great, he stretched out an arm and pointed with sharply bent 
forefinger to a spot immediately before the pulpit. K. followed 
this direction too; when he stood on the spot indicated he had to 
bend his head far back to see the priest at all. "You are Joseph 
K.," said the priest, lifting one hand from the balustrade in a 
vague gesture. "Yes," said K., thinking how frankly he used to 
give his name and what a burden it had recently become to him; 
nowadays people he had never seen before seemed to know his 
name. How pleasant it was to have to introduce oneself before 
being recognized! "You are an accused man," said the priest in 
a very low voice. "Yes," said K. "So I have been informed." 
"Then you are the man I seek," said the priest. "I am the prison 
chaplain." "Indeed," said K. "I had you summoned here," said 
the priest, "to have a talk with you." "I didn't know that," said 
K. "I came here to show an Italian round the Cathedral." "A 
mere detail," said the priest. "What is that in your hand? Is it a 
prayer book?" "No," replied K., "it is an album of sights worth 
seeing in the town." "Lay it down," said the priest. K. pitched it 
away so violently that it flew open and slid some way along the 
floor with disheveled leaves. "Do you know that your case is go- 
ing badly?" asked the priest. "I have that idea myself," said K. 


"I've done what I could, but without any success so far. Of 
course, my first petition hasn't been presented yet." "How do you 
think it will end?" asked the priest. "At first I thought it must 
tarn out well," said K., "but now I frequently have my doubts. 
I don't know how it will end. Do you?" "No," said the priest, 
"but I fear it will end badly. You are held to be guilty. Your case 
will perhaps never get beyond a lower Court. Your guilt is sup- 
posed, for the present, at least, to have been proved." "But I am 
not guilty," said K.; "It's a misunderstanding. And, if it comes to 
that, how can any man be called guilty? We are all simply men 
here, one as much as the other." "That is true," said the priest, 
"but that's how all guilty men talk." "Are you prejudiced against 
me too?" asked K. "I have no prejudices against you," said the 
priest. "I thank you," said K.; "but all the others who are con- 
cerned in these proceedings are prejudiced against me. They are 
influencing even outsiders. My position is becoming more and 
more difficult." "You are misinterpreting the facts of the case," 
said the priest. "The verdict is not so suddenly arrived at, the pro- 
ceedings only gradually merge into the verdict." "So that's how 
it is," said K., letting his head sink. "What is the next step you 
propose to take in the matter?" asked the priest. "I'm going to get 
more help," said K., looking up again to see how the priest took 
this statement. "There are several possibilities I haven't explored 
yet." "You cast about too much for outside help," said the priest 
disapprovingly, "especially from women. Don't you see that it 
isn't the right kind of help?" "In some cases, even in many, I 
could agree with you," said K., "but not always. Women have 
great influence. If I could move some women I know to join 
forces in working for me, I couldn't help winning through. Espe- 
cially before this Court, which consists almost entirely of petti- 
coat-hunters. Let the Examining Magistrate see a woman in the 
distance and he almost knocks down his desk and the defendant 
in his eagerness to get at her." The priest drooped over the balus- 
trade, apparently feeling for the first time the oppressiveness of 
the canopy above his head. What could have happened to the 
weather outside? There was no longer even a murky daylight; 
black night had set in. All the stained glass in the great window 
could not illumine the darkness of the wall with one solitary glim- 
mer of light. And at this very moment the verger began to put 
out the candles on the high altar, one after another. "Are you 
angry with me?" asked K. of the priest. "It may be that you 
don't know the nature of the Court you are serving." He got no 
answer. "These are only my personal experiences," said K. There 
was still no answer from above. "I wasn't trying to insult you," 

Franz Kafka 143 

said K. And at that the priest shrieked from the pulpit! "Can't 
you see anything at all?" It was an angry cry, but at the same 
time sounded like the involuntary shriek of one who sees an- 
other fall and is startled out of himself. 

The priest knew what the real accusation against K. was, and 
he also knew that his case would end badly. At this point K. had 
a chance to look into himself and to ask what the real accusation 
was, but, consistent with his previous orientation, he was inter- 
ested only in finding out where he could get more help. When 
the priest said disapprovingly that he casts about too much for 
outside help, K.'s only response was fear that the priest was angry. 
Now the priest became really angry, but it was the anger of love 
felt by a man who saw another fall, knowing he could help him- 
self but could not be helped. There was not much more the priest 
could tell him. When K. moved in the direction of the doorway, 
the priest asked, "Do you want to leave already?" Although at 
that moment K. had not been thinking of leaving, he answered at 
once, "Of course, I must go. I'm the assistant manager of a Bank, 
they're waiting for me. I only came here to show a business friend 
from abroad round the Cathedral." "Well," said the priest, reach- 
ing out his hand to K., "then go." "But I can't find my way out 
alone in this darkness," said K. 

K.'s was indeed the tragic dilemma of the person who could not 
find his way alone in the darkness and who insisted that only 
others could guide him. He sought help but he rejected the only 
help the priest could offer him. Out of his own dilemma he could 
not understand the priest. He asked, "Don't you want anything 
more to do with me?" "No," said the priest. "You were so friendly 
to me for a time," said K., "and explained so much to me, and 
now you let me go as if you cared nothing about me." "But you 
have to leave now," said the priest. "Well, yes," said K., "you 
must see that I can't help it." "You must first see that I can't help 
being what I am," said the priest. "You are the prison chaplain," 
said K., groping his way nearer to the priest again; his immediate 
return to the Bank was not so necessary as he had made out; he 
could quite well stay longer. "That means I belong to the Court," 
said the priest. "So why should I make any claims upon you? 


The Court makes no claims upon you. It receives you when you 
come, and it relinquishes you when you go." 

The priest made it quite clear that his attitude was the oppo- 
site of authoritarianism. While he wanted to help K. out of love 
for his fellow men, he himself had no stake in the outcome of 
K.'s case. K.'s problem, in the priest's view, was entirely his own. 
If he refused to. sjee^^njm^t_remain blind — because no one sees 
thetruirTeTcegt Jby h imself. ^ — - — — "" 

~WKaTIs so com using~ln~the~nb vel is the fact that it is never said 
that the moral law represented by the priest and the law repre- 
sented by the court are different. On the contrary, in the manifest 
story the priest, being the prison chaplain, is part of the court sys- 
tem. But this confusion in the story symbolizes the confusion in 
K.'s own heart. To him the two are one, and just because he is 
not able to distinguish between them, he remains caught in the 
battle with the authoritarian conscience and cannot understand 

One year elapsed after K. had the first inkling of his arrest. 
It was now the evening before his thirty-first birthday and his case 
had been lost. Two men came to fetch him for the execution. In 
spite of his frantic efforts, he had failed to ask the right question. 
He had not found out what he was accused of, who accused him, 
and what was the way to save himself. 

The story ends, as so many dreams do, in a violent nightmare. 
But while the executioners went through the grotesque formali- 
ties of preparing their knives, K. had for the first time an insight 
into his own problem. "I always wanted to snatch at the world 
with twenty hands, and not for a very laudable motive, either. 
That was wrong, and am I to show now that not even a whole 
year's struggling with my case has taught me anything? Am I to 
leave this world as a man who shies away from all conclusions? 
Are people to say of me after I am gone that at the beginning of 
my case I wanted it to finish, and at the end of it wanted it to 
begin again? I don't want that to be said." 

For the first time K. was aware of his greediness and of the 
sterility of his life. For the first time he could see the possibility 
of friendship and human solidarity: 

Franz Kafka 145 

His glance fell on the top story of the house adjoining the 
quarry. With a flicker as of a light going up, the casements of a 
window there suddenly flew open; a human figure, faint and in- 
substantial at that distance and that height, leaned abruptly far 
forward and stretched both arms still farther. Who was it? A 
friend? A good man? Someone who sympathized? Someone who 
wanted to help? Was it one person only? Or were they all there? 
Was help at hand? Were there some arguments in his favor that 
had been overlooked? Of course there must be. Logic is doubt- 
less unshakable, but it cannot withstand a man who wants to go 
on living. Where was the Judge whom he had never seen? Where 
was the High Court, to which he had never penetrated? He raised 
his hands and spread out all his fingers. 

While all his life K. had been trying to find the answers, or 
rather to be given answers by others, at this moment he asked 
questions and the right questions. It was only the terror of dying 
that gave him the power to visualize the possibility of love and 
friendship and, paradoxically, at the moment of dying he had, for 
the first time, faith in life. 

x This and all subsequent quotations are from Franz Kafka, The Trial, 
(New York, 1931). 

2 Cf . the description of the receptive orientation in the author's Man for 

3 Cf . the chapter on humanistic and authoritarian conscience in Man for 

Ernest Jones 

The Death of Hamlet's Father 

When a poet takes an old theme from which to 
create a work of art it is always interesting, and often instructive, 
to note the respects in which he changes elements in the story. 
Much of what we glean of Shakespeare's personality is derived 
from such studies, the direct biographical details being so sparse. 
The difference in the accounts given in Hamlet of the way the King 
had died from that given in the original story is so striking that it 
would seem worth-while to look closer at the matter. 

The most obvious difference is that in the Saxo-Belleforest saga 
the murder is a public one, with Shakespeare a secret one. We do 
not know, however, who made this change, since an English play 
called Hamlet, thought to be written by Kyd, was extant some 
twelve years before Shakespeare wrote his; and he doubtless used 
it as well as the Belleforest version. That play no longer exists ex- 
cept in a much later and much distorted German version, but a 
Ghost probably appeared in it, and one can hardly imagine any 
other function for him than to disclose a secret murder. There is 
reason to suppose that Shakespeare may himself have had a hand 
in the Kyd play, but at all events he made the best possible use of 
the alteration. 

The Death of Hamlets Father 147 

In the old saga Claudius (there called Feng) draws his sword on 
his brother the King (Horvendil) x at a banquet and slays him 
"with many wounds." He explains to the assembled nobles that 
he has done this to protect his sister-in-law (Geruth) from ill- 
treatment and imminent peril of her life at the hands of her hus- 
band — a pretext evidently a reflection of the infant's sadistic con- 
ception of coitus. Incidentally, in the Saxo saga (though not with 
Belleforest), there had here been no previous adultery with the 
Queen, so that Feng is the sole villain, and Amleth, unlike Hamlet, 
unhesitatingly kills him and reigns in his stead as soon as he can 
overcome the external obstacles. In Hamlet, as is well known, the 
plot is intensified by the previous incestuous adultery of the Queen, 
which convulses Hamlet at least as much as his father's murder 
and results in an animus against women that complicates his previ- 
ously simple task. 

In the Hamlet play, on the other hand, Claudius disclaims all 
responsibility for his brother's death and spreads a somewhat im- 
probable story of his having been stung to death by a serpent while 
sleeping in an orchard. How he knew this we are not told, nor why 
the adder possessed this quite unwonted deadliness. There is much 
to be said about that "orchard," but we may assume that it sym- 
bolizes the woman in whose arms the king was murdered. The 
Ghost's version was quite different. According to him, Claudius 
had found him asleep and poured a juice of hebana into his ears, 
a still more improbable story from a medical point of view; he fur- 
ther tells us that the poison rapidly spread through his system 
resulting in "all his smooth body being barked about most lazar- 
like with vile and loathsome crust." Presumably its swift action 
prevented him from informing anyone of what had befallen him. 

The source of this mysterious poison has been traced as follows. 2 
Shakespeare seems to have taken the name, incidentally misspelling 
it, from the juice of "hebon," mentioned in a play of Marlowe's, 
who himself had added an initial letter to the "ebon" (ebony) of 
which the walls of the God of Sleep were composed (Ovid) . Shake- 
speare apparently went on to confound this narcotic with henbane 
(hyoscyamus), which at that time was believed to cause mortifi- 
cation and turn the body black. 3 Two interesting beliefs connect- 


ing henbane with the ear are mentioned by Pliny: (1) that it is a 
remedy for earache, and (2) when poured into the ear it causes 
mental disorder. 

The coarse Northern butchery is thus replaced by a surreptitious 
Italianate form of murder, a fact that has led to many inquiries, 
which do not concern us here, concerning Italian influence on 
Shakespeare. The identical method is employed in the Play Scene, 
where a nephew murders his uncle, who was resting after coitus, 
by dropping poison into his ear and immediately afterwards es- 
pouses the widow a la Richard III. Hamlet says he got the Gon- 
zago story from an Italian play, but no such play has yet been 
traced. But there had been two instances of murder in an unhappy 
Gonzaga family. In 1538 a famous Duke of Urbino, who was mar- 
ried to a Gonzaga, died under somewhat suspicious circumstances. 
Poison was suspected, and his barber was believed to have poured 
a lotion into his ears on a number of occasions. So the story goes: 
whether poison thus administered is lethal to anyone with intact 
tympani is a matter we must leave to the toxicologists. At all events 
the Duke's son got the unfortunate barber torn in pieces by pincers 
and then quartered. In the course of this proceeding the barber 
asserted he had been put on to commit the foul deed by a Luigi 4 
Gonzaga, a relative of the Duke's by marriage. For political and 
legal reasons, however, Luigi was never brought to trial. 5 Further- 
more, in 1592 the Marchese Rudolf von Castiglione got eight 
bravos to murder his uncle the Marchese Alfonso Gonzaga, a rela- 
tive of the Duke of Mantua. Rudolf had wished to marry his uncle's 
daughter and had been refused; he himself was murdered eight 
months later. 

The names used make it evident that Shakespeare was familiar 
with the story of the earlier Gonzaga murder, as he possibly was 
with the later one too. The "poison in the ear" story must have 
appealed to him, since he not only used it in the Gonzago Play 
Scene — where it would be appropriate — but also in the account of 
Hamlet's father's death. 

If we translate them into the language of symbolism the Ghost's 
story is not so dissimilar from that of Claudius. To the unconscious, 
"poison" signifies any bodily fluid charged with evil intent, while 

The Death of Hamlet's Father 149 

the serpent has played a well-known role ever since the Garden 
of Eden. The murderous assault had therefore both aggressive and 
erotic components, and we note that it was Shakespeare who intro- 
duced the latter (serpent). Furthermore, that the ear is an uncon- 
scious equivalent for anus is a matter for which I have adduced 
ample evidence elsewhere. 6 So we must call Claudius' attack on 
his brother both a murderous aggression and a homosexual assault. 

Why did Shakespeare give this curious turn to a plain story of 
envious ambition? The theme of homosexuality itself does not sur- 
prise us in Shakespeare. In a more or less veiled form a pronounced 
feminity and a readiness to interchange the sexes are prominent 
characteristics of his plays, and doubtless of his personality also. 
I have argued 7 that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet as a more or less 
successful abreaction of the intolerable emotions aroused by the 
painful situation he depicts in his Sonnets, his betrayal by both his 
beloved young noble and his mistress. In life he apparently smoth- 
ered his resentment and became reconciled to both betrayers. 
Artistically his response was privately to write the Sonnets (in the 
later publication of which he had no hand) and publicly to com- 
pose Hamlet not long afterwards, a play gory enough to satisfy all 
varieties of revenge. 

The episode raises again the vexed question of the relation be- 
tween active and passive homosexuality. Nonanalysts who write on 
this topic are apt to maintain that they represent two different in- 
born types, but this assertion gives one an unsatisfied feeling of 
improbability, and analytic investigation confirms these doubts by 
demonstrating numerous points of contact between the two atti- 
tudes. Certainly Claudius' assault was active enough; sexually it 
signified turning the victim into a female, i.e. castrating him. Ham- 
let himself, as Freud 8 pointed out long ago, was unconsciously 
identified with Claudius, which was the reason why he was unable 
to denounce and kill him. So the younger brother attacking the 
older is simply a replica of the son-father conflict, and the compli- 
cated poisoning story really represents the idea of the son castrat- 
ing his father. But we must not forget that it is done in an erotic 
fashion. Now Hamlet's conscious attitude toward his father was a 
feminine one, as shown by his exaggerated adoration and his ad- 


juring Gertrude to love such a perfect hero instead of his brother. 
In Freud's opinion homosexuality takes its origin in narcissism, 9 
so that it is always a mirror-love; Hamlet's father would therefore 
be his own idea of himself. That is why, in such cases, as with 
Hamlet, suicide is so close to murder. 

My analytic experience, simplified for the present purpose, im- 
pels me to the following reconstruction of homosexual development. 
Together with the narcissism a feminine attitude toward the father 
presents itself as an attempted solution of the intolerable murder- 
ous and castrating impulses aroused by jealousy. These may per- 
sist, but when the fear of the self-castration implied gains the upper 
hand, i.e. when the masculine impulse is strong, the original ag- 
gression reasserts itself — but this time under the erotic guise of 
active homosexuality. 

According to Freud, Hamlet was inhibited ultimately by his 
repressed hatred of his father. We have to add to this the homo- 
sexual aspect of his attitude, so that Love and Hate, as so often, 
both play their part. 

1 It was Shakespeare who changed this name to Hamlet, thus emphasizing 
the identification of son and father. 

2 See Hy. Bradley, Modern Language Review (1920), XV, 85. 

3 W. Thislton-Dyer, Shakespeare's England, Vol. I, p. 509. 

4 From whom Shakespeare perhaps got the name Lucianus for the mur- 
derer in the Play Scene. 

5 See G. Bullough, "The Murder of Gonzago," Modern Language Review 
(1935), XXX, 433. 

6 Essays in Applied Psycho-Analysis (1923), pp. 341-6. 

7 Hamlet and Oedipus (1949). 
s Die Traumdeuting (1900), S. 183. 
9 Collected Papers, Vol. II, p. 241. 

Theodor Reik 

The Three Women in a Mans Life 

There is an unknown melody that has been 
haunting me now for several days. It appears sometimes very 
clearly and sometimes only the first bars are heard by the inner 
ear as a faint echo. It came like an unannounced guest one has 
once known, but whose name one has forgotten. Its repeated 
emergence irks me now and I try to turn it away as if the unrecog- 
nized guest had stayed too long and has become wearisome. If I 
but knew what that tune is! I am searching in vain in my memory. 
I must have heard it long, long ago. Where was it? 

Was it not in the Vienna Opera? It occurs to me that the melody 
I do not recognize must have something to do with my father. . . . 
My memory calls his image up ... his face ... his sidewhiskers . . . 
his beard was like Kaiser Franz Josef's ... or rather like Jacques 
Offenbach's. . . . The image of the composer emerges quite dis- 
tinctly as if it were a photograph. . . . The penetrating eyes and 
the pince-nez on a ribbon. . . . And then I know suddenly what the 
melody is: the aria of Antonia from The Tales of Hoffmann. As if 
a floodgate had been opened, an abundance of images emerges. 
When my sister and I went to the Vienna Opera for the first time 
in 1901, 1 was 13 years old. 



We had heard our father speak about The Tales of Hoffmann 
before. At the first performance of Offenbach's opera in 1881 a 
terrible fire had consumed the Vienna Ringtheater. Many hun- 
dreds of people had perished; my father had saved himself by 
jumping from a window. Many superstitious persons in our city, 
at that time, had tried to establish a connection between the catas- 
trophe and the personality of the composer. They said Offenbach 
had an "evil eye" whose glances had magical power to harm 
people. They called him a "jettatore," meaning a wicked sorcerer. 
Poor Offenbach, whose picture we had seen and in which we had 
discovered a likeness to our father, had in fact not lived to witness 
the opening performance of his opera. 

The Tales of Hoffmann had not been performed in Vienna for a 
long time, in fact, not until 1901. My sister and I were agog with 
anticipation. In those days, the performances of the Opera were 
a frequent subject of discussion in the homes of the middle-class 
people of musical Vienna. We had often heard the orchestra praised 
and the individual singers evaluated. Then there was the new direc- 
tor whose artistic and creative zeal had revolutionized the old 
institution and who had become the subject of bitter contention 
and ardent enthusiasm. Every one of the performances which he 
conducted aroused a storm of controversy: his lack of respect for 
tradition which he had once characterized as "sloppiness," his 
startling innovations, his musicianship, and his inspired energy 
which demanded perfection from himself and those working with 
him. His name, which we heard spoken so often at home, was 
Gustav Mahler. 

Memories emerge of our first night at the Opera House; the 
crowded theater, the box reserved for the Court, the tuning of 
the instruments. The lights are out now; only stage and orchestra 
are illuminated. Hurrying toward the conductor's stand we see a 
man of small stature with the ascetic features of a medieval monk. 
His eyes are flashing behind his glasses. He glances, as if in fury, 
at the audience that applauds his appearance. He raises the baton 
and throws himself, with arms uplifted, ecstatically almost, into the 
flood of melody. Gustav Mahler. 

The Three Women in a Man's Life 153 

Slowly the curtain rises. There is a student's tavern, the young 
men drinking, boasting, and jesting. Hoffmann, the poet and musi- 
cian, appears on the scene and is teased by his comrades because 
he has fallen in love once again. They ask him to recount the story 
of his foolish amours and he begins: "The name of my first beloved 
was Olympia. . . ." 

The play takes us back, in the ensuing act, to what happened 
to young E. T. A. Hoffmann as he met Olympia in the home of the 
famous scientist Spallanzani, whose daughter she appears to be. It 
is love at first sight, with no realization that she is not a living 
woman but an automatic doll, fashioned with the utmost skill. The 
charming girl is seen at a party. When Spallanzani pushes a con- 
cealed button, she speaks, she walks, she sings and dances. Hoff- 
man confesses his love for her and is elated when he hears her 
"yes." She dances with him until exhausted, then her father or 
maker leads her to her chamber. Then, a malignant looking man 
by the name of Coppelius enters in a rage and claims to have been 
swindled by Spallanzani. Vengefully, he manages to slip into 
Olympia's chamber and to smash the magnificent doll Spallanzani's 
cleverness had wrought. E. T. A. Hoffmann is made the butt of the 
assembled guests' ridicule for having fallen in love with a lifeless 

The second act takes place in Venice, at the home of beautiful 
Giulietta, who receives the young poet as graciously as she does 
all the other young men to whom she grants her favors. Dapertutto, 
a demoniac figure, bribes the siren to make a play for Hoffmann's 
love. She promises to the ardent poet the key to her bedroom. 
He, however, gets into a fight with another of her lovers and kills 
him. She jilts Hoffmann, who finds her chamber deserted and espies 
her, in the embraces of another, entering a gondola which floats 
down the Canalo Grande. 

The third act is laid in Munich, in the house of old Crespel, 
with whose fair daughter, Antonia, Hoffmann has fallen in love. 
The girl has inherited her mother's beautiful singing voice but also 


her fatal disease, consumption. Father and lover plead with her not 
to sing. But Dr. Mirakel, a physician and an evil sorcerer, makes 
her doubtful again when he reproaches her for giving up a promis- 
ing career. In her presence he conjures up the spirit of her dead 
mother who joins with Dr. Mirakel in his exhortations to break her 
promise and to continue with her singing. Antonia yields and dies 
while singing her aria. Dr. Mirakel, then, disappears, emitting peals 
of triumphant, mocking laughter, leaving father and lover prey to 
their despair. 

In the epilogue, we witness the same scene as in the beginning: 
the students singing and jesting, shouting "bravo" to Hoffmann's 
tale of his thwarted love. He, in turn, proceeds to drown his grief 
in drink. 

When I went to the opera that evening, I had expected a light 
and amusing operetta in the manner of Belle Helene or Orphee 
aux Enjers, with sparkling melodies, debunking gods and heroes 
of Greek mythology. But this opera was so different. It made a 
deep impression on the thirteen-year-old boy. For many weeks 
afterwards, some tune from The Tales of Hoffmann, such as the 
charming aria of Olympia, the chorus of the guests, the moving 
aria of Antonia, haunted me. Images from the performance re- 
curred to the inner eye: there were the evil and demoniac figures 
of Coppelius, Dapertutto and Dr. Mirakel, played by the same 
singer. They appeared as personifications of a mysterious power 
that destroys again and again the young poet's love and happiness. 
Also, the image of the pale face of Gustav Mahler himself reap- 
peared, looking like a sorcerer, like a spiritualized Dr. Mirakel, 
performing wonders with the orchestra. And then the female fig- 
ures, played, as they were, by the same singer: Olympia, Giulietta 
and Antonia. They appeared to be three women in one, a triad 
which is always the same. There was, in the boy, a foreknowledge 
or presentiment of a deeper meaning behind the succession of the 
three loves and their tragic endings, but this concealed meaning 
eluded him whenever he tried to penetrate the mystery. 

The Three Women in a Man's Life 155 

When I heard the opera again, almost twenty years later, that 
which had been dark, became transparent. It was like developing 
an old photographic plate. The chemical processes to which the 
plate had been subjected in the meantime had made it possible to 
obtain now a positive print. The triad had revealed its secret in 
the light of what I had learned and experienced in psychoanalysis. 

In every one of his attachments, young Hoffmann had met an 
antagonist called variously, Coppelius, Dapertutto and Dr. Mirakel. 
This secret opponent was out to defeat the poet; he turned the 
beloved against Hoffmann or destroyed her. At the beginning we 
see Hoffmann infatuated or in love. We see him broken in spirit, 
in misery and despair, at the end. The easily inflamed passion of 
the young man meets an antagonistic power, self-deceiving and 
self-harming, which causes him to fail. That which makes him 
luckless and miserable is conceived as outside forces. But is it not 
rather some agent within himself emerging from dark subterranean 
depths? The sinister figures, who blind him about Olympia, who 
cause Giulietta to jilt him, and to bring death and destruction to 
Antonia, are personifications only of a foiling power which is an 
unconscious part of Hoffmann himself. This hidden factor which 
frustrates him each time in the end is operative already in his 
choices of his love objects. As if led by a malicious destiny, as if 
thwarted by a demon, he falls in love each time with a woman 
who is unsuitable: Olympia, a lifeless automaton, Giulietta, a 
vixen, and Antonia, doomed from the beginning. 

The personalities of the three women, themselves, as well as the 
sequence of their succession, seem to express a concealed signifi- 
cance, hint at a symbolic meaning behind the events. It is as if the 
author was presenting not only the particular case of this German 
poet and musician, Hoffmann, but beyond that a situation of uni- 
versal significance. Does the play want to say that every young 
man follows such a pattern in his loves? Yet our feeling balks 
at such a meaning. We find ourselves at a kind of psychological 
impasse, both willing and recalcitrant to believe, feeling a fusion 


and confusion of emotions which oppose each other. We sense 
there is a hidden general meaning; yet what happens to E. T. A. 
Hoffmann, especially his loves for those strange female characters, 
is so specific and personal that it cannot relate to us. 

The closest coincidence to the love life of the average young 
man may be seen in Hoffmann's infatuation for Giulietta, the heart- 
less, Venetian courtesan, who wants to enslave him for reasons of 
her own. Her charm fills him with consuming fire, he puts himself 
in bondage to her ready to sacrifice all to his passion. Need we 
search here for a deeper meaning? We have the lady of easy or 
absent virtue, who plays with all men and with whom all men play. 
Here we really have a type which is to be found in every man's 
life; the object of uninhibited sexual wishes, the mistress desir- 
able in the flesh. 

But what should we think of Olympia? We meet here with an 
odd love object, something almost incredible. The girl walks and 
laughs, speaks, dances and sings. She is, as Hoffmann discovers 
later and too late, really only an automaton, which does not func- 
tion unless her clever creator pushes certain buttons. Where is the 
place of such a strange creature in every man's life? Should we 
assume that the author wanted to give an exaggerated caricature 
of the baby-faced, doll-like darling who has no life of her own, the 
girl without brains and personality, the society glamour girl, the 
plaything and toy? Such an interpretation is tempting, it makes 
rational sense, but remains unconvincing. And Antonia? Should 
she be regarded as the woman who hesitates between choosing a 
man or a career? But her character does not tally with this concept. 
The outstanding feature, after all, is the menace of death connected 
with her singing. 

If we tentatively accept these rational concepts, we arrive at the 
conclusion that the author wanted to portray three typical figures 
who play a role in a young man's life. They are the child-woman, 
the siren, and the artist, or a woman who oscillates between want- 
ing to be a wife or to follow a career. Olympia, Giulietta, and 
Antonia would then represent three types whom every young man 
meets and finds attractive in different ways, appealing as they do to 
the playful, the sensual, and the affectionate part in him. Was this 

The Three Women in a Man's Life 157 

in the writer's mind when he created the three women, representa- 
tive of their sex? Have we now reached a better understanding? 

If we have, we do not feel satisfied yet. Something warns us 
against contenting ourselves with such an interpretation. Should we 
give up our attempts at searching for a deeper meaning in the three 
female figures? Should we not rather take them at the value of their 
beautiful faces? We cannot do it. We cannot escape the haunting 
impression of a concealed significance. There is the repetitive char- 
acter in spite of individual variations, the hidden logic which gives 
the play its tragic atmosphere. The sinister figures of the mysteri- 
ous antagonist intensify the impression. They give to the events on 
the stage a sense of something preordained and fateful which can- 
not be accidental. Other traits too make it evident that the author 
was well aware of the veiled significance, for instance, the remark 
of one of the students after Hoffmann has told the story of his 
loves: "I understand, three dramas in one drama." 

Besides and beyond such small but telling items in the text, there 
is the force of this music in which the secret power of the inevi- 
table, the shadow of near death, and the spell of destiny have been 
transformed into song. This power is felt in the playful and spar- 
kling tunes of the students, in the Mozartian entrance of the guests, 
in the sweet aria of Olympia, and in the alluring barcarole of 
Giulietta. It laughs and mocks in Dr. Mirakel's tunes. It pleads in 
Hoffmann's confessions of love, in the exhortations of the dead 
mother, and in Antonia's swan song. There is something in the 
conjuring power of this music, in the depths of feeling it stirs, in 
the death fear and death desire it pours into unforgettable melo- 
dies, which does not allow you to escape from this haunting sense 
of a concealed significance. Whether or not the librettist meant to 
express a symbolic meaning, there can be no doubt that the com- 
poser did. There is more in the events on the stage and in this 
music than what meets the eye and the ear. 


Impossible, that the interpretation of the three feminine figures 
has reached the deepest level yet. They must be more than mere 
types of women, even if they are also that. There is something more 
meaningful in the three acts than the choice of three girls and 
three disappointments in love. The rational concept of the meaning 
of the three women all of a sudden strikes me as superficial, flat, 
and banal. It is very possible, even probable, that such a common- 
place was in the mind of the writer, but unconsciously he said 
more than he consciously knew, expressed a meaning beyond his 
grasp. It should not be forgotten that the French librettist took the 
material of the text from The Tales of Hoffmann from various 
novels by the German writer, Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann 
(1776-1822), whom he then made the leading figure of the opera. 
In these stories, Hoffmann showed a strange mixture of the realistic 
and the phantastic, of the grotesque and the tragic, creating a 
ghastly, haunting atmosphere even there where he depicts only 
everyday events. Offenbach's melodies communicate to you the 
deeper insight; they speak immediately to your emotions, alerted 
as they are by the hidden element of the dramatic action, although 
the plot itself presents only the surface aspect of something elusive 
and mystifying. 

In a situation like this, psychoanalytic interpretation comes into 
its own, furnishing a key, as it does to a locked room, allowing us 
to penetrate below the surface of conscious thinking. There is not 
much of a mystery about Giulietta: she remains the "courtesan with 
brazen mien" as she is called in the play. What might give us food 
for thought is rather her place in the sequence of the female figures. 
She stands in the middle, following after Olympia, the doll, and 
preceding Antonia over whom looms the shadow of death. Since 
Giulietta represents the woman who arouses and appeals to man's 
sensual desires, promising their fulfillment, her middle position in 
the sequence suggests the interpretation that in her is represented 
the figure which governs the mature years of a man's life. 

More intriguing is the personality of Olympia. How does this 

The Three Women in a Man's Life 159 

doll, the child-woman appear in the light of psychoanalytic inter- 
pretation? What can be the significance of her appearance in Hoff- 
mann's life, with this mixture of features, both grotesque and 
pathetic? Freud has taught us that the hidden meaning of many 
dreams, neurotic symptoms and other products of unconscious 
activity remains obscure as long as their manifest content alone is 
taken into consideration. In certain instances the concealed mean- 
ing of a dream, for example, can only be understood by reversing 
important parts of the dream plot. Then, and only then, and in no 
other way, may the meaning be unraveled from the distortions in 
such cases. Olympia is a doll who speaks and moves and sings only 
if and when appropriate buttons are pushed, when she is being 
led and manipulated. If we are to reverse the story, we get the 
picture of Hoffmann being led by hidden strings like a marionette. 
Or, if we go one step further, he is made to walk and talk and 
sing and act like an infant. The reversal of this part of the plot 
seems thus to place the story of Hoffmann's first love in his infancy. 
The poet appears in the reversal as a little boy, and Olympia as 
representing his mother who plays with him. He cannot act in- 
dependently of her, and follows her about. If we are willing to trust 
this psychoanalytic interpretation which, after all, does not sound 
any more phantastic than the story of Hoffmann's first love in the 
operatic plot, some meaning in the succession of the two figures 
dawns on us: Olympia and Giulietta. If Olympia represents the 
mother, the first love object of the small boy, then Giulietta is the 
woman loved and desired by the grown man, the object of his 
passionate wishes, the mistress who gratifies his sensual desires. 

But what is hidden then behind the last figure? Who is con- 
cealed behind Antonia? When we trust to psychoanalytic interpre- 
tation, this riddle will not be hard to solve. Antonia vacillates 
between her love for Hoffmann and her love for music. She dis- 
obeys the warnings not to sing and dies. When we reverse the con- 
tents again, as we did before, we arrive at the following meaning: 
Hoffmann, the poet, vacillates between his love and his art, and he 
dies. In the sequence of the plot, Antonia is the last image of woman 
as she appears to the old man. Antonia is the figure of death. The 
three female figures appear to us now in a new light: Olympia as 


the representative of the mother, object of the love of the helpless 
and dependent little boy; Giulietta as the desired mistress of the 
grown man, Antonia as the personification of death which the old 
man is approaching. 

It is at this point in our attempts at unraveling the hidden pat- 
tern of meaning behind Offenbach's opera, that the mental image 
of the composer himself emerges, shaded by the knowledge of his 
life story. Can it be incidental that he, already fatally ill, worked 
feverishly at this, his last opus which he hoped was going to be his 
best accomplishment? They called him then in Paris "Mozart of the 
Champs Elysees." Mozart, his beloved and revered master, knew 
when he composed his Requiem that he would die soon. Offenbach 
too realized that his end was approaching. He put his full creative 
power into his work, and he died after it was completed like 
Antonia during her swan song. In the demoniac tunes of Dr. 
Mirakel are all the shudders of the approaching annihilation. All 
passionate longing for life and light is poured into the third act. 
Offenbach wrote to M. Carvallio, Director of the Paris Opera: 
"Hurry to produce my play. Not much time is left to me and I 
have only the one wish to see the opening performance." He knew 
he had to complete his work even if his efforts would accelerate 
his death. It did. He died a few months before the opening night. 
Like Antonia he perished in his song. 

It is not accidental that E. T. A. Hoffmann, the hero of the 
opera, was himself a musician as well as a poet. The identification of 
Offenbach with the figure of Antonia is also indicated in her pas- 
sionate desire to become an artist like her mother whose spirit 
exhorts her to sacrifice all to her singing. Offenbach's father was a 
singer in the synagogue and a composer of Jewish religious music. 

The psychoanalytic interpretation here presented may seem 
forced to the reader unfamiliar with the methods of eliciting un- 
conscious meanings. It will be helpful to point out that the symbolic 
significance here discovered is only a restatement in new form of 
an old motif well known from numerous ancient myths and tales. 
It can be called the motif of the man and the three women one of 
whom he has to choose. Freud gave the first psychoanalytical inter- 
pretation of this recurrent plot in one of his less known papers. 1 He 

The Three Women in a Man's Life 161 

deciphered the concealed meaning in the material of Lear, which 
Shakespeare had taken from older sources. The old king stands 
between his three daughters of whom the youngest, Cordelia, is 
the most deserving. Goneril and Regan vie with each other in 
protestations of their affection for the father, but Cordelia "loves 
and is silent." In the last scene of the drama, Lear carries Cordelia, 
who is dead, across the stage. Freud elucidated the hidden signifi- 
cance of this scene by the process of reversal. It means, of course, 
the figure of death who carries away the body of Old Lear, as the 
Valkyries carry off the slain hero. Traces of this original meaning 
can be seen already in the scene of Cordelia bending over her 
"childchanged father." As is frequently the case of dreams about 
persons dear to the dreamer, Cordelia's silence in itself signifies 
unconsciously that she is dead, that she is death itself in a mythical 

The same motif, displaced, distorted and elaborated, appears 
in another one of Shakespeare's plays. The Portia scenes in the 
Merchant of Venice reveal to the interpretation of Freud an unex- 
pected aspect. Portia will yield her hand to the man who, among 
three caskets, chooses the one which contains her picture. Here we 
encounter a hidden symbolism which we already know from Greek 
antiquity: boxes, chests and other receptacles are symbolic substi- 
tutes for the female body. In the Bassanio scene of the play, the 
motif of the man who has to choose between three women is thus 
expressed in symbolic form. Bassanio prefers the casket which is 
leaden to the gold and silver ones: 

. . . but thou, thou meager lead, 

Which rather threatenest, than dost promise aught. 

Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence. 

The features of paleness, like silence in the case of Cordelia, 
appear frequently in dreams to signify that a figure is dead: persons 
who are deathly pale or who are voiceless represent dead persons 
or death itself. Antonia in The Tales of Hoffmann is a singer, it is 
true, but to sing is forbidden to her and it is her song which brings 
about her death, silences her forever. In unconscious productions, 
opposites may stand for each other, can replace each other. The 


secret similarities between the two Shakespearian plays become 
transparent: an old motif appears in the one in a tragic, in the 
other in a light version. What is in reality inevitable and preor- 
dained, namely that in the end man has to yield to death, is here 
turned into a free choice. That which threatens is changed into 
wish-fulfillment — a result itself of wishful thinking. There are hints 
which point to the original meaning, to the kind of a choice in- 
volved. ("Who chooses me must give and hazard all he hath" says 
the leaden casket "which rather threatenest than dost promise 
aught" to Bassanio.) 

Let me follow the old motif into the realm of the fairy tale where 
we meet with it frequently in its diverse forms, for instance, in the 
story of Cinderella who is the youngest of the sisters, and conceals 
herself. We can trace it farther back to the Erynyes, Parcae and 
Moiras, the goddesses of fate who are standing guard over indi- 
vidual destiny. The third figure among them is Atropos, who cut 
the thread of life. Corresponding to the Parcae are the Norse in 
Germanic mythology who, too, are conceived as watching over 
human fate. They rule over gods and men alike, and from what is 
decreed by them neither god nor man can escape. Man's fate is 
determined by them at the hour of the child's birth, by what they 
say to the newborn infant. The word fate (fatum) itself, is derived 
from the same root as "word" or "that which is spoken." That 
what they say in magic words is a man's fate. Derived from the 
same Indo-German root, the word "fee" in modern German, the 
word "feie" in old French, and the Irish adjective "fay," which is 
contained in fairy, all originally denoted goddesses of fate. In many 
fairy tales the fairies are represented as bringing gifts to a newborn 
infant. In most instances they appear as beneficent, as kind, lovely, 
well-wishing figures. But in some of the stories their original fatal 
character re-emerges behind the benign aspect. 

In conformity with the psychological law of the opposite which 
can replace one aspect by its protagonist in our unconscious think- 
ing, the goddess of death sometimes appears under the aspect of 
the great goddess of Love. In most ancient mythologies the same 
female figure has both functions like Kali in India, Ashtar with 
the Semitic tribes, and Aphrodite with the Greeks. Yes, indeed, 

The Three Women in a Man's Life 163 

it is wishful thinking which succeeded at last in transforming the 
most terrifying apparition into the desirable, the female figure of 
death into that of the beloved. 

We look back at Offenbach's opera: Olympia, Giulietta, Antonia. 
Here are three women in one, or one woman in three shapes: the 
one who gives birth, the one who gives sexual gratification, the 
one who brings death. Here are the three aspects woman has in 
a man's life: the mother, the mistress, the annihilator. The first 
and the last characters meet each other in the middle figure. In 
mythological and literary reactions the representatives of love and 
of destruction can replace each other as in Shakespeare's plays, or 
they succeed each other as in Hoffmann's tales of thwarted love. 
In his three loves a reaction formation unfolds itself: the woman 
chosen appears in each beginning as the loveliest, most desirable 
object, and always, in the end, represents doom and death. It is 
as if her true character reveals itself only in the final scene. For 
as long as the reaction formation is in power, the most terrible 
appears as the most desirable. 

Behind all these figures is originally a single one, just as in 
the triads of goddesses whom modern comparative history of re- 
ligion has succeeded in tracing back to their prototype of one god- 
dess. For all of us the mother is the woman of destiny. She is the 
femme jatale in its most literal sense, because she brought us into 
the world, she taught us to love, and it is she upon whom we call 
in our last hour. The mother as a death-dealing figure became 
alien to our conscious thinking. But she may become comprehen- 
sible in this function when death appears as the only release from 
suffering, as the one aim desired, the final peace. It is in this sense 
the dying soldiers call for their mothers. I can never forget a little 
boy who, in the agonies of a painful illness, cried: "Mother, you 
have brought me into the world, why can't you make me dead 

It is noteworthy that the motif of one man between three women 
appears in an earlier opera of Offenbach, who took an active part 
in the choice and shape of the libretto. The Belle Helene uses a 
plot from Greek mythology: Paris, son of Priamos, has to choose 
between Athene, Hera and Aphrodite. The charming aria of the 


mythological playboy says: "On Mount Ida three goddesses quar- 
reled in the wood. 'Which,' said the princesses, 'of us three is the 
fairest?' " Here, again, we have the motif of choosing, this time 
in a frivolous version. To the young ladies' man, Hera promises 
power and fame, Athene wisdom, but 

. . . the third, ah, the third 
The third remained silent. 
She gained the price all the same. 

Is it not strange that Aphrodite, the goddess of love, remains 
silent? She does not speak, yet she is eloquent. In the end the 
young prince chooses her, only it is not choice, it is necessity. 
She is not only the goddess of Love, but also of Death. The Tales 
of Hoffmann tell and sing the role of women in a man's life; that is 
to say: in every man's life. 

I now remember when the melody that haunted me for several 
days first emerged. It was a week ago on my way back from the 
Public Library. I had looked up something there. Before leaving 
I had seen on a desk a book which was a biography of Jacques 
Offenbach. I took it, looked at the composer's picture and ran 
over the pages reading a paragraph here and there: the story of 
his childhood in Germany, his struggle and triumph at Paris, his 
way of composing, the feverish working on the score of The Tales 
of Hoffmann. He had a presentiment he would not live to see the 
opening night of the opera. He felt the end was near. He died a 
few months after he had reached sixty-one. 

Walking home through the streets that evening, I thought of the 
book I am working on and a sudden anxiety overcame me that I 
would die before finishing it. It occurred to me that I had passed 
sixty-one a few months ago. And then the aria from The Tales of 
Hoffmann emerged and the unrecognized melody began to haunt 
me as if it wanted to remind me of something one would like to 

1 Das Motif der Kaestchenwahl, Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. X. 

Fritz Wittels 

Heinrich von Kleist — 

Prussian Junker and Creative Genius 

A Study in Bisexuality 

In studying the life and work of Heinrich von 
Kleist we will not only come to an insight into this great and un- 
lucky man as an individual but, maybe, also to a psychological 
understanding of Prussian education and its results in the period 
after Frederick the Great, whose tradition survived for almost two 

Heinrich von Kleist was born and raised on the arid soil of 
Brandenburg, Prussia's motherland. Kleist was one of the greatest 
poets and playwrights in the German language. Outside of Ger- 
many he is little known, translations cannot re-create the particular 
flavor of his work. In his own country he was more and more 
appreciated after his death (1811), reaching the peak during the 
nationalistic period in Germany after 1870. No other creative 
genius was deeper rooted in the soil of Prussia, no one better quali- 
fied to convey the spirit of his country with its discipline, sense 
of duty, extremism in obedience, and rebellion. 



All his lifetime he was staggering from one failure to the other. 
He did not see even a single one of his plays performed on the 
stage. He never could free himself from the doom of self-destruc- 
tion. He was a clear case of agitated depression, definitely present- 
ing a psychosis in periods of exacerbation. He died, thirty-four 
years old, a suicide. (His literary critics feel that Heinrich von 
Kleist would have become Germany's greatest playwright could he 
have ended a normal span of life. It is, however, futile to make 
such statements, for the same explosive forces that made him great 
also destroyed him before his time.) 

Von Kleist was a "Junker," but his relatives felt that he dis- 
graced them. A von Kleist should definitely not have been a play- 
wright but an officer sitting on horseback, and commanding soldiers, 
rigorously. The name of the von Kleist family can be traced back 
to medieval times (1175, according to Karl Federn). They gave 
officers and generals to the Electors of Brandenburg and later to 
the rulers of Prussia, up to the end of World War II. A general and 
others of the clan of lower rank were fighting for the Nazis. The 
famous Field Marshal General Heinrich Ferdinand Emil Kleist, 
Count of Nollendorf (1762-1823), helped in the liberation of 
Germany from Napoleonic subjugation. 

Some members of the family became prominent in science in 
the eighteenth century. One of the Kleists discovered the Leyden 
Jar, the device for storing static electricity. Occupation with sci- 
ence, though inferior to military service, was not considered dis- 
graceful. After all, was not war a science? Any scientific research 
might come in handy in war! It was different with poetry, which 
was definitely held in contempt. Even before Heinrich, another von 
Kleist indulged in poetry. His name was Ewald Christian (171 5— 
1759), but he at least remained a military officer while Heinrich 
resigned from the army after a few years of service. Ewald Chris- 
tian was killed a hero in the battle of Kunersdorf on August 12, 
1759. Leading his battalion, he attacked a Russian battery. When 
his right arm was hit, he changed the sword to his left hand and 
went on until three cannon shells smashed his right leg. He lay 
unconscious on the battlefield all night, was sacked by the Cossacks 
and only on the following day was he transported to Frankfort on 

Heinrich von Kleist 167 

the Oder. There he died and was buried with military honors by 
the Russian garrison. In the eyes of the family, Ewald Christian 
was an eccentric who, because of his writing poetry, skipped sev- 
eral times in military advancement. 

Heinrich von Kleist was born in 1777 in Frankfort on the Oder, 
a joyless small town in Brandenburg, not to be mistaken for 
Goethe's native town, Frankfort on the Main, the large city with 
Western interests. Frankfort on the Oder was always a center of 
the von Kleists. Heinrich's father, a retired major, died when the 
boy was twelve years old. Heinrich, being the eldest son, had to 
become a soldier, as a matter of course. He had to join the Pots- 
dam regiment of the Guards before he was quite fifteen. There he 
got his training, but no further schooling. In his earlier years he 
had been tutored privately and described as an obedient average 
student. At sixteen, he participated in the Rhine Campaign of 
1793. His letters of that time, written in poor, ungrammatical lan- 
guage, reveal him as a serious boy, full of respect for his superiors, 
and well-behaved. In the same year — and five years after his 
father's death — his mother died. He mourned her in unfree, hack- 
neyed phrases. 1 Nothing yet indicated the inspired genius of later. 
In 1795, the regiment came home from a rather inglorious cam- 
paign, in 1797 he received his commission and two years later 
Kleist resigned. We know little of the deeper motivation for this 
step, a step so unusual to be done by a von Kleist. From his dry, 
schoolmasterly, pedantic letters to his fiancee, Wilhelmine von 
Zenge, we may be sure of one fact: Kleist had not found himself 
yet. At the time of his resignation, and long afterwards, he re- 
mained a typical representative of the "Junker" spirit — a dry duty- 
and-service-machine plus the explosive feeling that he could not 
continue in service. 

Why did he resign? We have a letter written to an older friend 
in which Kleist tried to explain his decision. The letter is of enor- 
mous length and boring as are all of his utterances of those days. 
In the army — he wrote to his friend — one cannot be both an officer 
and a human being. That was why he had to quit. As good as this 
sounds we cannot but consider his motivation a rationalization of 
deeper instinctive forces. At the time of his resignation, Kleist lived 


in Berlin and Potsdam and his service, except for a six weeks' 
period of maneuvers, was far from strenuous. He was given to 
studies and to music and he had excellent friends among the offi- 
cers of the garrison. We mention here two of them, since they will 
appear further in this short biography: Ernst von Pfuel, who much 
later, 1848, became Prussian secretary of war, and Otto von 
Ruehle, later chief of the general staff. 

In order to perceive Kleist's deeper motives, we have to look 
at the psychology of the Prussian army as organized by the "Great 
Elector" in the seventeenth century, filled with compulsive spirit 
by King Frederick William I, proven a formidable instrument of 
war by Frederick the Great, and declining after the latter's death 
(1786). It was in that phase of rapid decline that Heinrich von 
Kleist entered this "organization of men," spending eight of his 
formative years in it before he quit. 

Elsewhere I tried to show the part that obsession, paranoia, and 
latent homosexuality played in the origin of the Prussian army with 
its brittle discipline, its sense of duty and specific honor. 2 

I discussed military, religious, and students' organizations, their 
bloom and their decay, and also smaller groups of men which not 
only became hotbeds of overt homosexuality but in addition served 
a double purpose in cases of latent homosexuality. Double, be- 
cause the organization prevented the outbreak of the perversion 
by sublimating the dangerous, undesirable, instinct and, on the 
other hand, turned libido away from woman to its own overheated 
and therefore sexualized aims. In this way, the community fostered 
subliminal homosexuality which broke through whenever the orig- 
inal aims weakened. 

Quoting myself: "As long as the covenant remains strong in 
its aims and practices it succeeds in its sublimation. If it is weak- 
ened as a result of a clash with inimical social forces, the homo- 
sexual drive breaks through — all the more strongly since the spe- 
cific energy of the drive was continuously fed to grow in the group. 
In such phases of transition, in the midst of the danger of a break- 
through, the practice of the covenant is usually intensified, which 
makes it appear more and more morbid until in the end overt 
homosexuality comes to the fore just the same. History is full of 

Heinrich von Kleist 169 

examples of this kind, particularly medieval history. Religious 
orders of monks and knights before, during, and after the Cru- 
sades show these psychological mechanisms, frequently extended 
over centuries." 

Not only history offers examples of men's societies with their 
double aim, everyday life also is full of such clubs, enthusiastic 
flag bearers, smaller and larger groups of men which, as a rule, 
serve well to keep the balance between the components of bisexu- 
ality. We may express this in biblical words : Render unto woman 
the things which are woman's and unto man the things that are 

The following will prove that Kleist all through his short life 
had to run away from his homosexual tendencies; most of the time 
latent, but occasionally breaking through as overt perversion, he 
was haunted by them as by Eumenides. And we reach the conclu- 
sion that Kleist resigned from the army because its touch of latent 
and overt homosexuality was too much for him. We know that 
Kleist suffered from a slight anomaly of his penis, most likely a 
phimosis, the somatic contribution to his compulsive masturbation. 
He complained about it in a letter to his friend L. von Brocke, 
ten years his senior. That letter does not exist, but we have von 
Brocke's reply, containing words of consolation. 3 Much was writ- 
ten about Kleist's trip to Wuerzburg, because he himself wrapped 
it in mystery, which is natural enough, and on the other hand he 
referred to it in romantic exaggerations quite out of proportion. 
This gave rise to all kinds of guesswork. 

Between Kleist's resignation from the army and that trip to 
Wuerzburg lay one and a half years of studies at the second-rate 
university of his home town. He spent there three semesters study- 
ing mathematics, philosophy and physics, according to the second 
tradition of his family. Although he was sitting up with his text- 
books every night, he got nowhere and quit his studies, too. In 
those days he met Wilhelmine von Zenge. (Mind you, there was 
hardly anybody in his company without a "von.") Wilhelmine was 
the daughter of a Prussian colonel. Kleist was soon more or less 
officially engaged to her. A great number of Kleist's letters to her 
were later destroyed by Wilhelmine and her family. All of the 


surviving correspondence is strangely dry and boring. The fiery 
poet of later years assumes the part of a petty bourgeois school- 
master in his letters to Wilhelmine. 

In 1780, Kleist left Frankfort on the Oder with its provincial 
university. He moved to Berlin, hoping to get a position in civil 
service. He was probably pressed by his fiancee's family, who 
would not permit a marriage to a man without a regular income. 
We know that Kleist's trip to Berlin had another, and secret, aim: 
the surgical operation, which was soon performed in Wuerzburg. 
He spoke vaguely of it in a letter to his sister Ulrike. He hoped, 
as he put it in that letter, to save by his journey "happiness, honor 
and, maybe, the life of a man." 

After the death of his mother, Ulrike von Kleist, three years 
his senior, was perhaps the only feminine creature whom Heinrich 
really loved — his mother substitute. Ulrike was a masculine woman 
who always had to help when her brother fell into a desperate 
plight, which happened often enough. In his letter he queried: 
"Why are you not a man? — My God, how deeply I have always 
wished for that. ... If you were a man — because a woman can 
never be my confidant — I would not have to look for a friend so 
far away! Do not try to find out the aim of my journey, even if 
you could, do not do it. Think that I can reach my aim only by 
concealing it from all men. At least for the time being, because 
some day it will be my pride and my joy to tell it. . . ." 

One week after his arrival in Wuerzburg he wrote to his fiancee 
that he had been promised certain relief. Of what disease? That 
he could not say yet. One month later he told Wilhelmine that 
he was cured now and in a position to get happily married to her. 
It was a jubilant letter, written on his twenty-third birthday, and 
it ended with the words: "Let your next goal be to be trained for 
a mother. My goal is to become a good citizen. Our further goal — 
which both of us will try to reach and which we can make sure 
of — is the fulfillment of love. Good night, Wilhelmine, my fiancee, 
soon my bride, soon mother of my children." 

He returned to Berlin, but his jubilant spirit did not prevail. 
He got the coveted job, but he could not keep it. A few months 
later he ran away from civil service just as he had from the army. 

Heinrich von Kleist 171 

This time he traveled to Paris with his sister. Ulrike disguised 
herself as a man and in this disguise she lived in Paris for months. 
Her brother, in contrast, looked amazingly girlish. We have a 
miniature of Kleist by Krueger which displays these feminine 

Kleist's always flattering biographers state that this good and 
true Prussian from the Mark Brandenburg could, as a matter of 
course, not like the "Babylon on the Seine." We have to add here: 
the heterosexual Babylon. From Paris, Kleist moved to Switzer- 
land where he decided to become a farmer. He wrote to his fiancee, 
who patiently waited for him in Frankfort, to join him in Switzer- 
land as a farmer's wife. When she declined, he abruptly ended 
that joyless relation (1802). Telling her of his new burning ambi- 
tion to become a famous writer, he closed his letter with the words: 
"Dear girl, do not write me any more. I have no other wish than 
to die soon. H.K." 

We realize the contradiction here: burning ambition in the bud 
and death wish. Yet both desires existed in this tortured soul simul- 
taneously. To be sure, marriage was impossible to him. 

Kleist's life was a regular museum of defense mechanisms against 
homosexuality. All of his reaction formations were destined either 
to break down or did not succeed sufficiently to redeem him for 
any length of time. His resignation from the army shows the run- 
away complex, which psychoanalysts frequently observe in their 
patients. 4 

Kleist ran away not only from the army, but also from his sci- 
entific studies, from civil service, from his fiancee, from Germany, 
from Paris, from Switzerland, from anyone and everywhere. With 
this trend was coupled an obsessional desire to withdraw, to be 
left alone: a hermit complex. The hermit is the logical sequence 
of the quitter. Withdrawal from the social danger of overt homo- 
sexuality is followed by the flight into solitude. We know many 
examples of this form of narcissism in psychiatric practice as well 
as in universal history. This defense mechanism cannot last, be- 
cause the same forces that drive a man into solitude drive him 
out of it after a relatively short time. Temptation follows the hermit 
into the desert. 


Kleist met a number of literary men in Switzerland, who ac- 
cepted him as their equal. Then and there, his burning ambition 
to be a great writer was born. Later he was to be not only their 
equal, but to develop outstanding genius. This gift of the gods 
could have saved him had he been able to keep his sublimation 
alive. He could not — for reasons we shall discuss later. 

We wish to repeat here what Freud often emphasized in his 
writings (on Leonardo da Vinci, Dostoevsky, etc.) : Psychoanalysis 
is not in a position to solve the mystery of artistic creativeness. 
We can tell why a certain author must choose his particular mate- 
rial and work it out his particular way. Dostoevsky had to describe 
parricide and glorify a certain type of woman. In the case of 
Leonardo it was the "Leonardesque" smile and bisexual motifs. 
In the case of the Prussian militarist, Heinrich von Kleist, it was 
Schrecklichkeit and supermasculinity. Psychoanalysis cannot tell, 
however, what makes an author great and creative. In our treatises 
on creators we do not even try to tackle this problem. 

As a rule, writers show their talent early. We do not know why 
it unfolded so late in Kleist's life, and we refrain from guessing. 
Sudden eruption of artistic qualities in people who did not betray 
them before, although it is the exception, could be observed in 
some of our great authors, e.g. in Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). 
In the case of Kleist, recognition by a group of congenial men be- 
came the catalytic agent. 

We have a number of Kleist's letters to and about friends in 
which he displayed enthusiasm and warmth that impress the reader 
nowadays as homosexual. However, we are told that the style of 
letter writing in his era was different from ours and that we have 
no right to suspect phrases like the following as being of homo- 
sexual nature: 

(January 1801) "Sometimes, at night, when I fell asleep at his 
breast, he held me without falling asleep himself." Or, in a letter 
to Henry Lohse: (December 1801) "And you think that I do 
not love you? Oh, how will you ever be able to convince any man 
that I do not love you? . . . And yet you could desert me? So 
soon? So easily? ... It is so hard for me to say the last word — 
we were so good, oh so good, to each other in Paris — are you 

Heinrich von Kleist 173 

not too unspeakably sad? I say, do you not wish to put your arms 
around me once more? Do not think at all, ask your first impulse 
and obey it — and should it be really the last word — my God, 
then I say good-bye to you and to all joys! Good-bye, good-bye. 
Heinrich Kleist." 

All this is supposed to be just eighteenth century emotional 
style. What a difference, however, between this outburst and the 
hackneyed decrees which the same man sent to his fiancee at 
about the same time. 

At least one letter, discovered only some time ago, with all 
allowances deducted, cannot be considered other than a homo- 
sexual love letter. It is addressed to Ernst von Pfuel (January 
1805): . . . "How did we fall into each other's arms a year ago 
in Dresden? . . . The fault is all mine. I have involved you, oh 
I cannot explain it to you the way I feel it. . . . We will never 
again embrace each other that way. . . . You restored the age 
of the Greek in my heart, I could have slept with you, my dear 
boy; my soul embraced you! Often have I watched your lovely 
body with truly girlish feelings when you took a swim before my 
eyes in the lake at Thun. It could really serve as a model to an 
artist. . . . Your small, curly-haired head over a massive neck, 
two broad shoulders, an athletic body, in its totality a flawless 
picture of strength as though you were formed in the image of 
the most beautiful young bull who ever had to bleed for Zeus. 
Lycurgus' entire legislation and his concept of the youth's love 
has become clear to me by the emotions you woke in me. Come 
to me! Go with me to Anspach and let us enjoy our sweet friend- 
ship. ... I will never marry, be you my wife, my children and 
grandchildren! ... I would like to say more to you, but it is not 
fit for a letter. . . . Heinrich von Kleist, Berlin, January 7, 1805." 

This letter calls to mind Oscar Wilde's letters to his boy friend. 
The same exalted and "knowing" style. It is not necessarily the 
letter of a man indulging in the sexual practice of homosexuality, 
but undoubtedly of a homosexual who fought his own feminine 
component most of his life. Kleist lived in a continuously repeated 
homosexual panic. 

In contradistinction to his femininity, Kleist grew into virility 


by way of his writings. His features betray him as feminine, his 
writings shout: "I am a man, a heartless man." The drama with 
its sharp ascent to its climax and relentless descent to its end is 
the most masculine art anyhow. As mentioned above, Kleist would 
have become the greatest German playwright without doubt, had 
it been given him to survive. In his writing, he is ruthless and 
harsh; his characters are blocks of granite, and this not only in his 
stage plays but also in his short stories, which in terms of atrocities 
approach Nazi cruelty — except that Kleist did not commit them, 
he only recorded them. It was once said that Shakespeare would 
have become a horrible criminal had he not been given the ability 
to objectivate his cruel instincts in the form of gruesome characters 
in his plays. The same is true of Kleist, who belonged to a nation 
which has shown the world more than once that it can do both: 
on the one hand kill and torture, on the other sublimate cruel 
tendencies into creations of art, sometimes of the highest order 
(German music!). 

In Kleist's stories, people are buried alive, burned, quartered 
and broken on the wheel. Children's skulls are smashed against 
the skulls of their own mothers, the inhabitants of large islands 
are wiped out, earthquakes swallow towns completely. This un- 
happy man found a way of his own to free himself of humane 
feelings which he considered a weakness — his feminine component. 
As a playwright as well as a narrator he possesses enormous force, 
he carries you along with the violence of his actions and words 
in a pace that takes your breath away. One cannot help feeling 
that something is wrong with this master of horrors; he is driven 
by an infernal power, by unspeakable, morbid suffering, something 
close to insanity, often trespassing the borderline. 

Kleist's tragedy, Penthesilea, although more than long enough 
for one theater evening, rushes from start to finish without any 
subdivision into acts. It is a masterpiece of composition and char- 
acterization, and replete with beautiful verses — yet it is the work 
of an insane genius. 

Penthesilea is the Queen of the Amazons, who derive their 
name from their custom of mutilating their bosoms in order to 
be better able to set a bow against their chests. At their festival 

Heinrich von Kleist 175 

of the roses, they give themselves lovingly to men — but only after 
having first defeated these men in bloody battle and then forced 
into bed as their prisoners. Kleist's Amazons are supposed to be 
quite feminine, notwithstanding the absence of a bosom and the 
custom of accepting defeated men only. Penthesilea even says she 
would prefer to be dirt to being an unattractive woman. She sees 
the Greek hero, Achilles, and falls in love with him. According 
to the law of her country, she has to "embrace him with iron" 
first. This is not impossible, in spite of Achilles' striking superi- 
ority, because she can take him on with bloodhounds and ele- 
phants. Achilles, however, is not defeated, at least not by her first 
assault. He, too, falls in love, and in order to spare her feelings 
he makes her believe that he has been vanquished by her. In the 
eyes of her pagan mother superior, Penthesilea is a renegade any- 
way, because she has singled out and fallen in love with Achilles 
instead of accepting anybody whom she has first prostrated in 
battle. To an Amazon, one man is no different from another. 

Achilles, on learning from Penthesilea that all Amazons have 
their right breast amputated, exclaims: 

Could the terrific rumor yet be true? 

And all these blooming figures 
Surrounding thee, the flowers of their sex, 

Perfect, each one of them, as if an altar 

To kneel in love before it and in worship, 

They all are robbed, inhuman, sinful? 
Penthesilea: Did you not know that? 
Achilles {pressing his face against her breast) : Oh Queen! 

The seat of all young and lovely feeling 

Because of a mania, barbarian — 
Penthesilea: Be reassured, 

They all take refuge in this left one, 

Where they dwell closer to the heart. 

I hope you will not miss the other. 

It is very difficult to remain serious about this love scene, all 
too close to a parody on the "mamma complex" (Edmund Bergler 
and Ludwig Eidelberg) . 

Achilles' delicate ruse is betrayed and Penthesilea learns that 
she has not defeated him but, on the contrary, he had defeated 


her. No sooner has she discovered his romantic deception than 
she changes into a monster. The man loves her and waits for her 
unarmed, not expecting hostilities, but she attacks him and hunts 
him to death with her dogs and arrows. With sadistic voluptuous- 
ness — a super-Salome — she assaults her murdered lover with her 
teeth and, with her dogs' help, tears the corpse to pieces. His 
blood drips from the corners of her mouth. 

It was often said that Penthesilea, who desires to surrender to 
man and then despises surrender, who loves man and then hates 
him, was — Kleist himself. Penthesilea expresses his "girlish" in- 
stincts and his masculine protest against them. Undoubtedly, his 
masculine sister Ulrike played a more or less unconscious part in 
the conception. 

Kleist sent his tragedy to Goethe (1808), who was then about 
sixty and enthroned in Weimar as the recognized prince of Ger- 
many's poets. He had grown old in reverence of proportion, an- 
cient Greek ideals, and rejected the play and its author with a 
kind of horror. He said he was sorry that an otherwise remarkable 
talent could go astray so far. 

Shortly after Penthesilea, Kleist wrote his fairy-tale play 
Kaethchen of Heilbronn, Penthesilea's antipode. He said himself 
that the two plays belong together like plus and minus. Penthe- 
silea is bloody protest against the man she loves, Kaethchen is 
all devotion and subservience. Finally, she gets her man just the 
same, having chosen the better way to his subjugation. The fifteen- 
year-old Kaethchen who, as we eventually hear, is the illegitimate 
daughter of the emperor, follows her knight Friedrich Wetter Graf 
von Strahl (this is: Frederick Thunderstorm Count of the Flash) 
like a dog in spite of all the terror he has in store for her. She 

I sleeps on straw in his stables. He does not want to have anything 
to do with her, but he cannot get rid of her, neither with dogs 
nor with the whip. She is all humility, but in her somnambulic 
I state she knows that he will marry her within a year's span. 

In spite of these extremes, we do not get the impression of 
perversion here. Kleist approaches the peak of his art, his salva- 
tion — it is time, because he is only a few years from his death. 
Kaethchen is filled with the spirit of Grimm's fairy tales in the 

Heinrich von Kleist 111 

best sense: natural fragrancy, humbleness, hope, and happy end- 
ing. The play is a medieval saga. Cherubs protect the girl, inno- 
cence is finally exalted, intriguing ugliness and falsehood are un- 
masked. We feel Kleist's love for Germany, no atrocities in this 
play, if we forget the count's threats with dog and whip. The 
count is rather a good fellow who does not seem to relish the girl's 
constant answers: "Yes, my sublime lord." — "No, my worshipped 
master!" and "Gracious Sir!" 

We do not know whether Goethe saw this play before Kleist's 
death. Most likely it would not have changed his judgment. Kaeth- 
chen is pining away, a case of hysteria without any personality 
aside from her masochistic eroticism. Even Goethe's Gretchen was 
much stronger a person, who succumbed to Faust, but first he 
had to conquer the resisting maiden. At the conclusion of Kleist's 
play, our masochistic Kaethchen eats up her man, figuratively and, 
unlike sadistic Penthesilea, no blood is shed and nobody dies. 

The Count von Strahl is visibly afraid of her, following him like 
his shadow. Once she jumps out of an upper window and breaks 
both her legs while he is happening to pass by. Another time he 
shouts: "Kick her out, I do not want to have anything to do with 
her!" It is all in vain, she is his inescapable fate. 

Kaethchen remains consistent to the very end. Shortly before 
the wedding, the count apologizes for all the injuries he inflicted 
upon her and he weeps. 
Replies Kaethchen "(with anxiety)": 

Heavens! What is the matter? What moves you so? 
What have you inflicted upon me? 

I know nothing of it. . . . 

Kleist knew it: You cannot get rid of women. Not of actual 
women without, not of one's own femininity within. He was afraid 
of both of them and described them as two extremes (Penthesilea 
and Kaethchen) who hardly exist in reality. Kaethchen, in all her 
sweetness and poetic glorification, cannot be a man's comrade like 
a normal woman. 

Not more than eight years were granted to Kleist, the writer, 
between his first literary attempts and his death. In this short span 


of time he created his classics, plays and stories, all of them born 
under terrific pain — his sublimation. 

Under sublimation we understand (1) desexualization of an 
undesired instinct, plus (2) continuous drain of the instinct by 
action acceptable to the ego of the sublimating individual, and 
(3) success with the contemporary group in and for which the 
individual lives. 

Kleist met with very little recognition, neither in terms of royal- 
ties nor of praise. Few creative spirits are strong enough to benefit 
from their production even without recognition. They rid them- 
selves of their vexing sense of incompleteness by the completeness 
of their work. Kleist with his feminine sensitivity was not one of 
those, except very temporarily towards the end of his life, when 
he became able to see and feel the plight of his countrymen. 

He suffered with Germany, at that time subjugated by Napoleon, 
and helped kindle the spirit of liberation. After the two plays de- 
scribed, he wrote two patriotic plays. One of them (Die Hermanns- 
schlacht), an allegory on Napoleon's conquest of Germany and 
the coming fight for liberation, sings of the Roman general's, Quin- 
tilius Varus, defeat in the forest of Teutoburg, a.d. 9. Here, too, 
we happen upon Kleistian atrocities. Thusnelda, Hermann's wife, 
has the Roman Ventidius dismembered and disemboweled by a 
hungry she-bear, because he had cheated her in love. She learned 
that Ventidius intended to strip her of her golden hair in order 
to send it to his empress Livia in Rome. He even felt like break- 
ing out her teeth for the repair of the empress' bad denture. With 
Kleist, things are never quite without a streak of insanity. 

His last play, by far his best and one of the best ever written 
in the German tongue, is a patriotic drama, glorifying Prussian 
army discipline and the strictest fulfillment of the soldier's duty 
in the service of his sovereign. By that time, Kleist had in his 
active life returned to his origin and had applied successfully for 
rehabilitation as a commissioned officer in his king's army. He 
united two forms of sublimation: to be again the active officer 
and to glorify the Prussian officer on the stage. 

The Prince of Homburg, his last play, was not shown in the 
author's lifetime either and later when it was performed it could 

Heinrich von Kleist 179 

not have the applause of his Junker class. These machine-men 
had no sense for the lofty poetry of duty and heroism, the way 
Kleist saw it. Any individual enthusiasm was suspicious and against 
their principles. The prince of this play is sentenced to die by 
Friedrich, the Great Elector, his uncle, because of disobeying an 
order. The prince wins the battle by his disobedience, but the 
Elector, as a matter of principle, considers discipline more impor- 
tant than a battle won. Prussian military glory in quintessence. 
Like the older Junius Brutus, whose son had to die for a similar 
offense, Friedrich had his nephew arrested and court-martialed. 
The playwright, understanding that heroic valor can be coupled 
with heroic fear, shows us the prince facing death with fear, ex- 
pressing it in frantic words. This was more than Prussian officers 
could take. The author was not one of them, although he was a 
von Kleist. A Junker, the perfect automaton of militarism, is never 
afraid to die, and if he is, he does not admit it. The prince's heroic 
march from fear to lofty acceptance of his fate in the name of 
Brandenburg's grandeur was not palatable to Brandenburg's ma- 
chinery. Dostoevsky, and before him Stendhal — in his novel The 
Red and the Black — could display emotions of this kind, but 
Kleist was once more rejected by his caste just when he felt ready 
to rejoin them. 

Soon after, Kleist was dead. He happened to meet Henriette 
Vogel, a very sick woman, the wife of an accountant. She was 
not young, not attractive, her face was disfigured by pockmarks. 
Her disease was supposed to be cancer, she had to expect painful 
ailment, she was longing for death but lacked the courage for 
lonesome suicide. Kleist, who has been longing for death all his 
life almost uninterruptedly, promised her on a day of exaltation 
that he would kill her and himself whenever she would ask for it. 
The reverse is also possible! Maybe, he made her promise him 
that she would depart with him whenever he asked her. Anyway, 
Kleist fell vehemently in love with Henriette. Here he saw the 
solution: one cannot live, but one can die with a woman! All 
secret guilt, all anxiety, all tension, vanished; he felt happy as 
never before in his life. All his friends unanimously bear witness 
that never was there a regular affair with Henriette. Yet, outbursts 


like the following over a year before their joint death show the 
flames of passion: 

To Adolfine Henriette Vogel 

Berlin, after Michaelmas, 1810 
My Jettchen, my heart, my darling, my little pigeon, my life, 
my dear, sweet life, light of my life, my everything, my goods 
and chattels, my castle, my soil, meadows and vineyards, oh sun 
of my life, sun, moon and stars, heaven and earth, my past, my 
future, my bride, my girl, my dear friend, my love, my heart's 
blood, my entrails, apple of my eye, oh you dearest, how am I to 
call you? My golden child, my pearl, my gem, my crown, my 
queen and empress. Sweet darling of my heart, highest, most cher- 
ished, my everything and anything, my wife, my wedding, chris- 
tening of my children, my tragedy, my immortality. Oh you are 
my better alter ego, my virtues, my merits, my hope, remission 
of my sins, my future and salvation, daughter of heaven, God's 
own child, my pleader and defender, guardian angel, my cherub 
and seraph — I love you so! . . . [My translation. F. W.] 

The letter of a maniac! Evidently, Kleist was in the midst of one 
of his numerous nervous calamities. This time he did not come 
out of it, but embraced the rapture of anticipated death. Kleist's 
soul, after the pressure of a life time is at long last freed of ever- 
burdening guilt and anxiety. He responds with the exuberance of 
the letter quoted above. 

"November 20th, 1811, at two o'clock p.m., the couple ar- 
rived at an inn at Wann-Lake near Potsdam. The landlord re- 
ported that they walked around the lake, ate and drank, chattered 
and laughed together. Light was on in their room all night and 
the valet saw them walk to and fro all the time. The twenty-first 
noon they sent a messenger with letters to Berlin. When they could 
be reasonably sure that the letters had reached their destination, 
they ordered coffee, rum, a table and chairs to be brought to a 
hill, about thirty feet from the lake. When the waitress returned 
to the inn, she heard the shots. Henriette lay in a pit; Kleist had 
shot her through the left breast and, kneeling in front of her, shot 
himself in the brain through his mouth. . . ." 

Much has been written about this double-death, murder and 
suicide. 5 Some of the explanations speak of Kleist's economic 

Heinrich von Kleist 181 

plight, actually just then hardly bothering him too much. Others 
exalted Henriette Vogel, with whom he died, to Dante's Beatrice, 
a unio mystica. What does such a union mean? We may confirm 
his friend Ernst von Pfuel's sad epitaph that Kleist loved death 
more than life. But why? Some people are so discontented with 
part of their person that they decide to free themselves of this 
part at all cost. They wish to kill the unwanted component. The 
idea is to continue living with the other part. However, when they 
shoot at themselves, they naturally perish, the two parts being 
inseparable from one another, psychically as well as bodily. Caught 
in a tragic mistake close to insanity they kill themselves. 

Ernest Jones emphasizes the underlying wish to return to 
mother; mother means birth, and birth equals death. From dust we 
come, to dust we go. We add here another approach which ex- 
plains suicide — solitary suicide as well as "dying together" in 
terms of bisexuality, understanding them as an intrusion of the 
primary function against the inexorable fact that one cannot kill 
one component and survive with the other. The primary function, 
immortal as a god, does ask: Why not? And the secondary func- 
tion is silenced — its objections are overruled. 

When Kleist met Henriette, he was able to project his feminine 
part into the sick woman and kill it in this shape. Naturally, he 
had to go with her. The body of the dead woman next to his own 
spoke out, saying to her macabre lover: Here lies the sex that 
made you suffer, and you he with it. 

Let us refer once more to Kleist's love letter to Henriette. In 
spite of his Titanic attempt to prove his love, he cannot reach 
the level of genuine "genitality." All his exuberance cannot con- 
ceal the absence of normal heterosexual feelings. His fear of his 
own femininity killed him. His life was dominated by homosexual 

The term homosexual panic came up during the first world war, 
when paroxysmal fright was observed in soldiers and could be 
recognized as originating in latent homosexuality, stirred up by 
constantly living with men only. Ferenczi divided the concept of 
homosexuality into active and passive inversion. Panic arises from 
the passive form, the fear of being overwhelmed, raped, emascu- 


lated. This was Kleist's case. The struggle against latent homo- 
sexuality of this kind, as we know only too well, may lead to 
diabolic (paranoiac) destruction. 

With Heinrich von Kleist, the greatest son of the race of the 
von Kleists, the destruction took place in fiction. Other members 
of his family had been producing "frightfulness" in active life. 
Their "degenerate" offspring died, unmourned by them, his death 
hardly deplored even by his friends. 

1 His father he never even mentioned in all his life. We know nothing of 
his Oedipus conflict except what can be deduced from his later fiction and 
plays. (Hellmut Kaister ingeniously attempted Kleist's Oedipus analysis in 
his paper "Kleist's Prinz von Homburg," Imago, Vol. XVI, No. 1, 1940.) 

2 "Struggle of a Homosexual in Pre-Hitler Germany," Journal of Criminal 
Psychopathology, Vol. IV, No. 3 (Jan. 1943), pp. 408-423; "Collective De- 
fense Mechanisms Against Homosexuality," The Psychoanalytic Review, 
Volume XXXI, No. 1 (Jan. 1944); "Psychoanalysis and History — The Nibe- 
lungs and the Bible," The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Vol. XV, No. 1 (Jan. 

3 1. Sadger, in a monograph on Kleist (Wiesbaden, 1910), expressed the 
opinion that Kleist suffered from compulsive masturbation and consequent 
compunctions. Around 1910 even Sadger, who was one of the first psycho- 
analytic explorers of homosexuality, did not know yet of the explosive 
power of latent homosexuality as first described in 1913 in Freud's classic 
on the "Schreber Case." 

4 A successful businessman had to retire, because his surroundings and 
particularly one of his partners became obnoxious to him. That partner had 
a huge frame, an excellent set of teeth which he bared broadly with every 
grin and laugh. In such moments, my patient was afraid of getting grabbed 
by the man, being lifted up and sat down on the desk like a little child. Yet 
the patient was that man's superior. Another shock the patient always re- 
ceived when the errand boy, a small blond fellow, entered his room with a 
message. It was easy to read from his dreams that he was living in homo- 
sexual panic, but by no means was it easy to make the man see his complex 
with equanimity. , 

5 Cf. a paper by Ernest Jones, "On Dying Together With Special Refer- 
ence to Heinrich von Kleist's Suicide," in Essays on Applied Psychoanalysis 
(International Psychoanalytic Library, Vol. 5, 1911, and 1923). 

Part Two 

William Empson 

Alice in Wonderland: 

The Child as Swain 

It must seem a curious thing that there has been 
so little serious criticism of the Alices, and that so many critics, 
with so militant and eager an air of good taste, have explained 
that they would not think of attempting it. Even Mr. De la Mare's 
book, which made many good points, is queerly evasive in tone. 
There seems to be a feeling that real criticism would involve psy- 
choanalysis, and that the results would be so improper as to de- 
stroy the atmosphere of the books altogether. Dodgson was too 
conscious a writer to be caught out so easily. For instance it is 
an obvious bit of interpretation to say that the Queen of Hearts 
is a symbol of "uncontrolled animal passion" seen through the 
clear but blank eyes of sexlessness; obvious, and the sort of thing 
critics are now so sure would be in bad taste; Dodgson said it 
himself, to the actress who took the part when the thing was acted. 
The books are so frankly about growing up that there is no great 
discovery in translating them into Freudian terms; it seems only 
the proper exegesis of a classic even where it would be a shock 



to the author. On the whole the results of the analysis, when put 
into drawing-room language, are his conscious opinions; and if 
there was no other satisfactory outlet for his feelings but the 
special one fixed in his books the same is true in a degree of any 
original artist. I shall use psychoanalysis where it seems relevant, 
and feel I had better begin by saying what use it is supposed to 
be. Its business here is not to discover a neurosis peculiar to 
Dodgson. The essential idea behind the books is a shift onto the 
child, which Dodgson did not invent, of the obscure tradition of 
pastoral. The formula is now "cMd-become-judge," and if Dodg- 
son identifies himself with the child so does the writer of the 
primary sort of pastoral with his magnified version of the swain. 
(He took an excellent photograph, much admired by Tennyson, 
of Alice Liddell as a ragged beggar girl, which seems a sort of 
example of the connection.) I should say indeed that this ver- 
sion was more open to neurosis than the older ones; it is less 
hopeful and more a return into oneself. The analysis should show 
how this works in general. But there are other things to be said 
about such a version of pastoral; its use of the device prior to 
irony lets it make covert judgments about any matter the author 
was interested in. 

There is a tantalizing one about Darwinism. The first Neander- 
thal skull was found in 1856. The Origin of Species (1859) came 
out six years before Wonderland, three before its conception, and 
was very much in the air, a pervading bad smell. It is hard to say 
how far Dodgson under cover of nonsense was using ideas of 
which his set disapproved; he wrote some hysterical passages 
against vivisection and has a curious remark to the effect that 
chemistry professors had better not have laboratories, but was 
open to new ideas and doubted the eternity of hell. The 1860 
meeting of the British Association, at which Huxley started his 
career as publicist and gave that resounding snub to Bishop Wil- 
berforce, was held at Oxford where Dodgson was already in resi- 
dence. He had met Tennyson in '56, and we hear of Tennyson 
lecturing him later on the likeness of monkeys' and men's skulls. 

The only passage that I feel sure involves evolution comes at 
the beginning of Wonderland (the most spontaneous and "sub- 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 187 

conscious" part of the books) when Alice gets out of the bath of 
tears that has magically released her from the underground cham- 
ber; it is made clear (for instance about watering places) that the 
salt water is the sea from which life arose; as a bodily product it 
is also the amniotic fluid (there are other forces at work here); 
ontogeny then repeats phylogeny, and a whole Noah's Ark gets 
out of the sea with her. In Dodgson's own illustration as well as 
Tenniel's there is the disturbing head of a monkey and in the text 
there is an extinct bird. Our minds having thus been forced back 
onto the history of species there is a reading of history from the 
period when the Mouse "came over" with the Conqueror; ques- 
tions of race turn into the questions of breeding in which Dodgson 
was more frankly interested, and there are obscure snubs for peo- 
ple who boast about their ancestors. We then have the Caucus 
Race (the word had associations for Dodgson with local politics; 
he says somewhere, "I never go to a Caucus without reluctance"), 
in which you begin running when you like and leave off when 
you like, and all win. The subtlety of this is that it supports Nat- 
ural Selection (in the offensive way the nineteenth century did) 
to show the absurdity of democracy, and supports democracy (or 
at any rate liberty) to show the absurdity of Natural Selection. 
The race is not to the swift because idealism will not let it be 
to the swift, and because life, as we are told in the final poem, is 
at random and a dream. But there is no weakening of human 
values in this generosity; all the animals win, and Alice because 
she is Man has therefore to give them comfits, but though they 
demand this they do not fail to recognize that she is superior. 
They give her her own elegant thimble, the symbol of her labor, 
because she too has won, and because the highest among you 
shall be the servant of all. This is a solid piece of symbolism; the 
politically minded scientists preaching progress through "selec- 
tion" and laissez-faire are confronted with the full anarchy of 
Christ. And the pretense of infantilism allows it a certain grim 
honesty; Alice is a little ridiculous and discomfited, under cover 
of charm, and would prefer a more aristocratic system. 

In the Looking-Glass too there are ideas about progress at an 
early stage of the journey of growing up. Alice goes quickly 


through the first square by railway, in a carriage full of animals 
in a state of excitement about the progress of business and ma- 
chinery; the only man is Disraeli dressed in newspapers — the new 
man who gets on by self-advertisement, the newspaper-fed man 
who believes in progress, possibly even the rational dress of the 

... to her great surprise, they all thought in chorus (I hope 
you understand what thinking in chorus means — for I must con- 
fess that / don't) , "Better say nothing at all. Language is worth a 
thousand pounds a word." 

"I shall dream of a thousand pounds tonight, I know I shall," 
thought Alice. 

All this time the Guard was looking at her, first through a 
telescope, then through a microscope, and then through an opera- 
glass. At last he said, "You're travelling the wrong way," and 
shut up the window and went away. 

This seems to be a prophecy; Huxley in the Romanes lecture of 
1893, and less clearly beforehand, said that the human sense of 
right must judge and often be opposed to the progress imposed 
by Nature, but at this time he was still looking through the glasses. 

But the gentleman dressed in white paper leaned forward and 
whispered in her ear, "Never mind what they all say, my dear, 
but take a return ticket every time the train stops." 

In 1861 "many Tory members considered that the prime minister 
was a better representative of conservative opinions than the leader 
of the opposition" (D.N.B.). This seems to be the double out- 
look of Disraeli's conservatism, too subtle to inspire action. I 
think he turns up again as the unicorn when the Lion and the 
Unicorn are fighting for the Crown; they make a great dust and 
nuisance, treat the common-sense Alice as entirely mythical, and 
are very frightening to the poor king to whom the Crown really 

"Indeed I shan't," Alice said rather impatiently. "I don't be- 
long to this railway journey at all — I was in a wood just now — 
and I wish I could get back there!" 

When she gets back to the wood it is different; it is Nature in 
the raw, with no names, and she is afraid of it. She still thinks 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 189 

the animals are right to stay there; even when they know their 
names "they wouldn't answer at all, if they were wise." (They 
might do well to write nonsense books under an assumed name, 
and refuse to answer even to that.) All this is a very Kafka piece 
of symbolism, less at ease than the preceding one; Wonderland is 
a dream, but the Loo king-Glass is self-consciousness. But both 
are topical; whether you call the result allegory or "pure non- 
sense" it depends on ideas about progress and industrialization, 
and there is room for exegesis on the matter. 

The beginning of modern child sentiment may be placed at the 
obscure edition of Mother Goose's Melodies (John Newbury, 
1760), with "maxims" very probably by Goldsmith. The impor- 
tant thing is not the rhymes (Boston boasts an edition of 1719. 
My impression is that they improved as time went on) but the 
appended maxims, which take a sophisticated pleasure in them. 
Most are sensible proverbs which the child had better know any- 
way; their charm (mainly for the adult) comes from the unex- 
pected view of the story you must take if they are not to be 

Amphion's Song of Eurydice. 

I won't be my Father's Jack, 
I won't be my Father's Jill, 
I won't be the Fiddler's Wife, 
And I will have music when I will. 

T'other little Tune, 
T'other little Tune, 
Prithee Love play me 
T'other little Tune. 

Maxim. — Those Arts are the most valuable which are of the 
greatest Use. 

It seems to be the fiddler whose art has been useful in con- 
trolling her, but then again she may have discovered the art of 
wheedling the fiddler. The pomp of the maxim and the childish- 
ness of the rhyme make a mock pastoral compound. The pleasure 
in children here is obviously a derivative of the pleasure in Mac- 
heath; the children are "little rogues." 


Whose dog art Thou? 
Little Tom Tinker's Dog. 
Bow wow wow. 

Tom Tinker's Dog is a very good Dog; and an honester Dog 
than his Master. 

Honest ("free from hypocrisy" or the patronizing tone to a social 
inferior) and dog ("you young dog") have their Beggar's Opera 
feelings here; it is not even clear whether Tom is a young vaga- 
bond or a child. 

This is a pleasant example because one can trace the question 
back. Pope engraved a couplet "on the collar of a dog which I 
gave to His Royal Highness" — a friendly act as from one gentle- 
man to another resident in the neighborhood. 

I am his Highness' dog at Kew. 
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you? 

Presumably Frederick himself would be the first to read it. The 
joke carries a certain praise for the underdog; the point is not 
that men are slaves but that they find it suits them and remain 
good-humored. The dog is proud of being the prince's dog and 
expects no one to take offense at the question. There is also a 
hearty independence in its lack of respect for the inquirer. Pope 
took this from Sir William Temple, where it is said by a fool: "I 
am the Lord Chamberlain's fool. And whose are you?" was his 
answer to the nobleman. It is a neat case of the slow shift of this 
sentiment from fool to rogue to child. 

Alice, I think, is more of a "little rogue" than it is usual to say, 
or than Dodgson himself thought in later years: 

loving as a dog . . . and gentle as a fawn; then courteous — courte- 
ous to all, high or low, grand or grotesque, King or Caterpillar 
. . . trustful, with an absolute trust. . . . 

and so on. It depends what you expect of a child of seven. 

. . . she had quite a long argument with the Lory, who at last 
turned sulky, and would only say, "I am older than you, and 
must know better"; and this Alice would not allow without know- 
ing how old it was, and as the Lory positively refused to tell its 
age, there was no more to be said. 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 191 

Alice had to be made to speak up to bring out the points — here the 
point is a sense of the fundamental oddity of life given by the 
fact that different animals become grown-up at different ages; but 
still if you accept the Lory as a grownup this is rather a pert child. 
She is often the underdog speaking up for itself. 

A quite separate feeling about children, which is yet at the back 
of the pertness here and in the Goldsmith, since it is needed if 
the pertness is to be charming, may be seen in its clearest form 
in Wordsworth and Coleridge; it is the whole point of the Ode to 
Intimations and even of We are Seven. The child has not yet been 
put wrong by civilization, and all grownups have been. It may well 
be true that Dodgson envied the child because it was sexless, 
and Wordsworth because he knew that he was destroying his 
native poetry by the smugness of his life, but neither theory ex- 
plains why this feeling about children arose when it did and 
became so general. There is much of it in Vaughan after the Civil 
War, but as a general tendency it appeared when the eighteenth- 
century settlement had come to seem narrow and unescapable; 
one might connect it with the end of duelling; also when the 
scientific sort of truth had been generally accepted as the main 
and real one. It strengthened as the aristocracy became more puri- 
tan. It depends on a feeling, whatever may have caused that in 
its turn, that no way of building up character, no intellectual sys- 
tem, can bring out all that is inherent in the human spirit, and 
therefore that there is more in the child than any man has been 
able to keep. (The child is a microcosm like Donne's world, and 
Alice too is a stoic.) This runs through all Victorian and Romantic 
literature; the world of the adult made it hard to be an artist, 
and they kept a sort of taproot going down to their experience 
as children. Artists like Wordsworth and Coleridge, who accepted 
this fact and used it, naturally come to seem the most interesting 
and in a way the most sincere writers of the period. Their idea 
of the child, that it is in the right relation to Nature, not dividing 
what should be unified, that its intuitive judgment contains what 
poetry and philosophy must spend their time laboring to recover, 
was accepted by Dodgson and a main part of his feeling. He 
quotes Wordsworth on this point in the "Easter Greeting" — the 


child feels its life in every limb; Dodgson advises it, with an in- 
felicitous memory of the original poem, to give its attention to 
death from time to time. That the dream books are 

Like Pilgrim's withered wreaths of flowers 
Plucked in a far-off land 

is a fine expression of Wordsworth's sense both of the poetry of 
childhood and of his advancing sterility. And the moment when 
she finds herself dancing with Tweedledum and Tweedledee, so 
that it is difficult to introduce herself afterwards, is a successful 
interruption of Wordsworthian sentiment into his normal style. 

. . . she took hold of both hands at once; the next moment 
they were dancing round in a ring. This seemed quite natural 
(she remembered afterwards), and she was not even surprised to 
hear music playing: it seemed to come from the tree under which 
they were dancing, and it was done (as well as she could make 
out) by the branches rubbing one against another, like fiddles 
and fiddle-sticks. ... "I don't know when I began it, but some- 
how I felt as if I had been singing it a long long time." 

This is presented as like the odd behavior of comic objects such 
as soup tureens, but it is a directer version of the idea of the 
child's unity with nature. She has been singing a long long time 
because she sang with no temporal limits in that imperial palace 
whence she came. Yet it is the frank selfishness of the brothers, 
who being little boys are horrid, are made into a satire on war, 
and will only give her the hands free from hugging each other, 
that forces her into the ring with them that produces eternity. 
Even here this puts a subtle doubt into the eternities open to the 

For Dodgson will only go halfway with the sentiment of the 
child's unity with nature, and has another purpose for his heroine; 
she is the free and independent mind. Not that this is contradictory; 
because she is right about life she is independent from all the other 
characters who are wrong. But it is important to him because 
it enables him to clash the Wordsworth sentiments with the other 
main tradition about children derived from rogue sentiment. (For 
both, no doubt, he had to go some way back; the intervening 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 193 

sentiment about children is that the great thing is to repress their 
Original Sin, and I suppose, though he would not have much 
liked it, he was among the obscure influences that led to the 
cult of games in the public schools.) 

One might say that the Alices differ from other versions of 
pastoral in lacking the sense of glory. Normally the idea of in- 
cluding all sorts of men in yourself brings in an idea of reconciling 
yourself with nature and therefore gaining power over it. The 
Alices are more self-protective; the dream cuts out the real world 
and the delicacy of the mood is felt to cut out the lower classes. 
This is true enough, but when Humpty Dumpty says that glory 
means a nice knockdown argument he is not far from the central 
feeling of the book. There is a real feeling of isolation and yet 
just that is taken as the source of power. 

The obvious parody of Wordsworth is the poem of the White 
Knight, an important figure for whom Dodgson is willing to break 
the language of humor into the language of sentiment. It takes off 
Resolution and Independence, a genuine pastoral poem if ever 
there was one; the endurance of the leech-gatherer gives Words- 
worth strength to face the pain of the world. Dodgson was fond 
of saying that one parodied the best poems, or anyway that parody 
showed no lack of admiration, but a certain bitterness is inherent 
in parody; if the meaning is not "This poem is absurd" it must be 
"In my present mood of emotional sterility the poem will not work, 
or I am afraid to let it work, on me." The parody here will have 
no truck with the dignity of the leech-gatherer, but the point of 
that is to make the unworldly dreaminess of the Knight more ab- 
surd; there may even be a reproach for Wordsworth in the lack 
of consideration that makes him go on asking the same question. 
One feels that the Knight has probably imagined most of the old 
man's answers, or anyway that the old man was playing up to the 
fool who questioned him. At any rate there is a complete shift 
of interest from the virtues of the leech-gatherer onto the childish 
but profound virtues of his questioner. 

The main basis of the joke is the idea of absurd inventions of 
new foods. Dodgson was well-informed about food, kept his old 
menus and was winetaster to the College; but ate very little, sus- 


pected the High Table of overeating, and would see no reason to 
deny that he connected overeating with other forms of sensuality. 
One reason for the importance of rich food here is that it is the 
child's symbol for all luxuries reserved for grownups. I take it 
that the fascination of Soup and of the Mock Turtle who sings 
about it was that soup is mainly eaten at dinner, the excitingly 
grown-up meal eaten after the child has gone to bed. When Alice 
talks about her dinner she presumably means lunch, and it is 
rather a boast when she says she has already met whiting. In the 
White Knight's song and conversation these little jokes based on 
fear of sensuality are put to a further use; he becomes the scientist, 
the inventor, whose mind is nobly but absurdly detached from 
interest in the pleasures of the senses and even from "good sense." 

"How can you go on talking so quietly, head downwards?" 
Alice asked, as she dragged him out by the feet, and laid him in 
a heap on the bank. 

The Knight looked surprised at the question. "What does it 
matter where my body happens to be?" he said. "My mind goes 
on working all the same. In fact, the more head downwards I 
am, the more I keep inventing new things." 

"Now the cleverest thing that I ever did," he went on after a 
pause, "was inventing a new pudding during the meat-course." 

This required extreme detachment; the word "clever" has become 
a signal that the mind is being admired for such a reason. The 
more absurd the assumptions of the thinking, for instance those 
of scientific materialism, the more vigorous the thought based 
upon it. "Life is so strange that his results have the more chance of 
being valuable because his assumptions are absurd, but we must 
not forget that they are so." This indeed is as near the truth as 
one need get about scientific determinism. 

One reason for the moral grandeur of the Knight, then, is that 
he stands for the Victorian scientist, who was felt to have invented 
a new kind of Roman virtue; earnestly, patiently, carefully (it 
annoyed Samuel Butler to have these words used so continually 
about scientists) without sensuality, without self-seeking, without 
claiming any but a fragment of knowledge, he goes on laboring 
at his absurd but fruitful conceptions. But the parody makes him 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 195 

stand also for the poet, and Wordsworth would have been pleased 
by this; he considered that the poet was essentially one who re- 
vived our sense of the original facts of nature, and should use 
scientific ideas where he could; poetry was the impassioned expres- 
sion of the face of all science; Wordsworth was as successful in 
putting life into the abstract words of science as into "the plain 
language of men," and many of the Lyrical Ballads are best under- 
stood as psychological notes written in a form that saves one from 
forgetting their actuality. The Knight has the same readiness to 
accept new ideas and ways of life, such as the sciences were im- 
posing, without ceasing to be good and in his way sensible, as 
Alice herself shows for instance when in falling down the rabbit 
hole she plans a polite entry into the Antipodes and is careful not 
to drop the marmalade onto the inhabitants. It is the childishness 
of the Knight that lets him combine the virtues of the poet and the 
scientist, and one must expect a creature so finely suited to life 
to be absurd because life itself is absurd. 

The talking animal convention and the changes of relative size 
appear in so different a children's book as Gulliver; they evidently 
make some direct appeal to the child whatever more sophisticated 
ideas are piled onto them. Children feel at home with animals con- 
ceived as human; the animal can be made affectionate without 
its making serious emotional demands on them, does not want to 
educate them, is at least unconventional in the sense that it does 
not impose its conventions, and does not make a secret of the 
processes of nature. So the talking animals here are a child world; 
the rule about them is that they are always friendly though child- 
ishly frank to Alice while she is small, and when she is big (sug- 
gesting grown-up) always opposed to her, or by her, or both. 
But talking animals in children's books had been turned to didactic 
purposes ever since Aesop; the schoolmastering tone in which the 
animals talk nonsense to Alice is partly a parody of this — they are 
really childish but try not to look it. On the other hand, this tone 
is so supported by the way they can order her about, the firm and 
surprising way their minds work, the abstract topics they work 
on, the useless rules they accept with so much conviction, that we 
take them as real grownups contrasted with unsophisticated child- 


hood. "The grown-up world is as odd as the child world, and both 
are a dream." This ambivalence seems to correspond to Dodgson's 
own attitude to children; he, like Alice, wanted to get the advan- 
tages of being childish and grown-up at once. In real life this 
seems to have at least occasional disadvantages both ways; one re- 
members the little girl who screamed and demanded to be taken 
from the lunch table because she knew she couldn't solve his 
puzzles (not, apparently, a usual, but one would think a natural 
reaction to his mode of approach) — she clearly thought him too 
grown-up; whereas in the scenes of jealousy with his little girls' 
parents the grownups must have thought him quite enough of a 
child. He made a success of the process, and it seems clear that 
it did none of the little girls any harm, but one cannot help cock- 
ing one's eye at it as a way of life. 

The changes of size are more complex. In Gulliver they are the 
impersonal eye; to change size and nothing else makes you feel 
"this makes one see things as they are in themselves." It excites 
Wonder but of a scientific sort. Swift used it for satire on science 
or from a horrified interest in it, and to give a sort of scientific 
authority to his deductions, that men seen as small are spiritually 
petty and seen as large physically loathsome. And it is the small 
observer, like the child, who does least to alter what he sees and 
therefore sees most truly. (The definition of potential, in all but 
the most rigid textbooks of electricity, contents itself with talking 
about the force on a small charge which doesn't alter the field 
much. The objection that the small alteration in the field might be 
proportional to the small force does not occur easily to the reader. ) 
To mix this with a pious child's type of Wonder made science 
seem less irreligious and gave you a feeling that you were being 
good because educating a child; Faraday's talks for children on the 
chemical history of a candle came out in 1861, so the method 
was in the air. But these are special uses of a material rich in 
itself. Children like to think of being so small that they could hide 
from grownups and so big that they could control them, and to 
do this dramatizes the great topic of growing up, which both Alices 
keep to consistently. In the same way the charm of Jabberwocky 
is that it is a code language, the language with which grownups 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 197 

hide things from children or children from grownups. Also the 
words are such good tongue gestures, in Sir Richard Paget's phrase, 
that they seem to carry their own meaning; this carries a hint of 
the paradox that the conventions are natural. 

Both books also keep to the topic of death — the first two jokes 
about death in Wonderland come on pages 3 and A — and for the 
child this may be a natural connection; I remember believing 
I should have to die before I grew up, and thinking the prospect 
very disagreeable. There seems to be a connection in Dodgson's 
mind between the death of childhood and the development of 
sex, which might be pursued into many of the details of the books. 
Alice will die if the Red King wakes up, partly because she is a 
dream product of the author and partly because the pawn is put 
back in its box at the end of the game. He is the absent husband 
of the Red Queen who is a governess, and the end of the book 
comes when Alice defeats the Red Queen and "mates" the King. 
Everything seems to break up because she arrives at a piece of 
knowledge, that all the poems are about fish. I should say the 
idea was somehow at work at the end of Wonderland too. The 
trial is meant to be a mystery; Alice is told to leave the court, as 
if a child ought not to hear the evidence, and yet they expect her 
to give evidence herself. 

"What do you know about this business?" the King said to 

"Nothing," said Alice. 

"Nothing whatever?" persisted the King. 

"Nothing whatever," said Alice. 

"That's very important," the King said, turning to the jury. 
They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when 
the White Rabbit interrupted: "E/mmportant, your Majesty 
means, of course," he said in a very respectful tone, but frown- 
ing and making faces as he spoke. 

"t/nimportant, of course, I meant," the King hastily said, and 
went on to himself in an undertone, "important — unimportant — 
unimportant — important — " as if he were trying which word 
sounded best. 

There is no such stress in the passage as would make one feel there 
must be something behind it, and certainly it is funny enough as 


it stands. But I think Dodgson felt it was important that Alice 
should be innocent of all knowledge of what the Knave of Hearts 
(a flashy-looking lady's man in the picture) is likely to have been 
doing, and also important that she should not be told she is inno- 
cent. That is why the king, always a well-intentioned man, is 
embarrassed. At the same time Dodgson feels that Alice is right 
in thinking "it doesn't matter a bit" which word the jury write 
down; she is too stable in her detachment to be embarrassed, these 
things will not interest her, and in a way she includes them all in 
herself. And it is the refusal to let her stay that makes her revolt 
and break the dream. It is tempting to read an example of this 
idea into the poem that introduces the Looking-Glass. 

Come, hearken then, ere voice of dread, 

With bitter summons laden, 
Shall summon to unwelcome bed 

A melancholy maiden. 

After all the marriage bed was more likely to be the end of the 
maiden than the grave, and the metaphor firmly implied treats 
them as identical. 

The last example is obviously more a joke against Dodgson 
than anything else, and though the connection between death and 
the development of sex is I think at work, it is not the main point 
of the conflict about growing up. Alice is given a magical control 
over her growth by the traditionally symbolic caterpillar, a creature 
which has to go through a sort of death to become grown-up, 
and then seems a more spiritual creature. It refuses to agree with 
Alice that this process is at all peculiar, and clearly her own life 
will be somehow like it, but the main idea is not its development 
of sex. The butterfly implied may be the girl when she is "out" 
or her soul when in heaven, to which she is now nearer than she 
will be when she is "out"; she must walk to it by walking away 
from it. Alice knows several reasons why she should object to 
growing up, and does not at all like being an obvious angel, a 
head out of contact with its body that has to come down from the 
sky, and gets mistaken for the Paradisal serpent of the knowledge 
of good and evil, and by the pigeon of the Annunciation, too. 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 199 

But she only makes herself smaller for reasons of tact or propor- 
tion; the triumphant close of Wonderland is that she has outgrown 
her fancies and can afford to wake and despise them. The Looking- 
Glass is less of a dream product, less concentrated on the child's 
situation, and (once started) less full of changes of size; but it has 
the same end; the governess shrinks to a kitten when Alice has 
grown from a pawn to a queen, and can shake her. Both these 
clearly stand for becoming grown-up and yet in part are a revolt 
against grown-up behavior; there is the same ambivalence as about 
the talking animals. Whether children often find this symbolism as 
interesting as Carroll did is another thing; there are recorded cases 
of tears at such a betrayal of the reality of the story. I remember 
feeling that the ends of the books were a sort of necessary assertion 
that the grown-up world was after all the proper one; one did not 
object to that in principle, but would no more turn to those parts 
from preference than to the "Easter Greeting to Every Child that 
Loves Alice" (Gothic type). 

To make the dream story from which Wonderland was elabo- 
rated seem Freudian one has only to tell it. A fall through a deep 
hole into the secrets of Mother Earth produces a new enclosed 
soul wondering who it is, what will be its position in the world, 
and how it can get out. It is in a long low hall, part of the palace 
of the Queen of Hearts (a neat touch), from which it can only 
get out to the fresh air and the fountains through a hole frighten- 
ingly too small. Strange changes, caused by the way it is nourished 
there, happen to it in this place, but always when it is big it cannot 
get out and when it is small it is not allowed to; for one thing, 
being a little girl, it has no key. The nightmare theme of the birth 
trauma, that she grows too big for the room and is almost crushed 
by it, is not only used here but repeated more painfully after she 
seems to have got out; the rabbit sends her sternly into its house 
and some food there makes her grow again. In Dodgson's own 
drawing of Alice when cramped into the room with one foot up 
the chimney, kicking out the hateful thing that tries to come down 
(she takes away its pencil when it is a juror), she is much more 
obviously in the fetus position than in Tenniel's. The White Rabbit 
is Mr. Spooner to whom the spoonerisms happened, an under- 


graduate in 1862, but its business here is as a pet for children 
which they may be allowed to breed. Not that the clearness of the 
framework makes the interpretation simple; Alice peering through 
the hole into the garden may be wanting a return to the womb 
as well as an escape from it; she is fond, we are told, of taking 
both sides of an argument when talking to herself, and the whole 
book balances between the luscious nonsense world of fantasy 
and the ironic nonsense world of fact. 

I said that the sea of tears she swims in was the amniotic fluid, 
which is much too simple. You may take it as Lethe in which 
the souls were bathed before rebirth (and it is their own tears; 
they forget, as we forget our childhood, through the repression 
of pain) or as the "solution" of an intellectual contradiction 
through Intuition and a return to the Unconscious. Anyway it 
is a sordid image made pretty; one need not read Dodgson's satiri- 
cal verses against babies to see how much he would dislike a 
child wallowing in its tears in real life. The fondness of small 
girls for doing this has to be faced early in attempting to prefer 
them, possibly to small boys, certainly to grownups; to a man 
idealizing children as free from the falsity of a rich emotional 
life their displays of emotion must be particularly disconcerting. 
The celibate may be forced to observe them, on the floor of a 
railway carriage for example, after a storm of fury, dabbling in 
their ooze; covertly snuggling against mamma while each still 
pretends to ignore the other. The symbolic pleasure of dabbling 
seems based on an idea that the liquid itself is the bad temper 
which they have got rid of by the storm and yet are still hugging, 
or that they are not quite impotent since they have at least "done" 
this much about the situation. The acid quality of the style shows 
that Dodgson does not entirely like having to love creatures whose 
narcissism takes this form, but he does not want simply to forget 
it as he too would like a relief from "ill temper"; he sterilizes it 
from the start by giving it a charming myth. The love for narcis- 
sists itself seems mainly based on a desire to keep oneself safely 
detached, which is the essential notion here. 

The symbolic completeness of Alice's experience is I think im- 
portant. She runs the whole gamut; she is a father in getting down 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 201 

the hole, a fetus at the bottom, and can only be born by becoming 
a mother and producing her own amniotic fluid. Whether his mind 
played the trick of putting this into the story or not he has the 
feelings that would correspond to it. A desire to include all sexual- 
ity in the girl child, the least obviously sexed of human creatures, 
the one that keeps its sex in the safest place, was an important 
part of their fascination for him. He is partly imagining himself 
as the girl child (with these comforting characteristics) partly as 
its father (these together make it a father) partly as its lover — 
so it might be a mother — but then of course it is clever and de- 
tached enough to do everything for itself. He told one of his 
little girls a story about cats wearing gloves over their claws: "For 
you see, 'gloves' have got love' inside them — there's none out- 
side, you know." So far from its dependence, the child's independ- 
ence is the important thing, and the theme behind that is the 
self-centered emotional life imposed by the detached intelligence. 

The famous cat is a very direct symbol of this ideal of intellec- 
tual detachment; all cats are detached, and since this one grins it 
is the amused observer. It can disappear because it can abstract 
itself from its surroundings into a more interesting inner world; 
it appears only as a head because it is almost a disembodied 
intelligence, and only as a grin because it can impose an atmos- 
phere without being present. In frightening the king by the allow- 
able act of looking at him it displays the soul force of Mr. Gandhi; 
it is unbeheadable because its soul cannot be killed; and its influ- 
ence brings about a short amnesty in the divided nature of the 
Queen and Duchess. Its cleverness makes it formidable — it has 
very long claws and a great many teeth — but Alice is particularly 
at home with it; she is the same sort of thing. 

The Gnat gives a more touching picture of Dodgson; he treats 
nowhere more directly of his actual relations with the child. He 
feels he is liable to nag at it, as a gnat would, and the gnat turns 
out, as he is, to be alarmingly big as a friend for the child, but at 
first it sounds tiny because he means so little to her. It tries to 
amuse her by rather frightening accounts of other dangerous 
insects, other grownups. It is reduced to tears by the melancholy 
of its own jokes, which it usually can't bear to finish; only if Alice 


had made them, as it keeps egging her on to do, would they be 
at all interesting. That at least would show the child had paid 
some sort of attention, and he could go away and repeat them 
to other people. The desire to have jokes made all the time, he 
feels, is a painful and obvious confession of spiritual discomfort, 
and the freedom of Alice from such a feeling makes her un- 

"Don't tease so," said Alice, looking about in vain to see 
where the voice came from; "if you're so anxious to have a joke 
made, why don't you make one yourself?" 

The little voice sighed deeply: it was very unhappy, evidently, 
and Alice would have said something pitying to comfort it, "if it 
would only sigh like other people!" she thought. But this was 
such a wonderfully small sigh, that she wouldn't have heard it at 
all, if it hadn't come quite close to her ear. The consequence of 
this was that it tickled her ear very much, and quite took off her 
thoughts from the unhappiness of the poor little creature. 

"1 know you are a friend," the little voice went on; "a dear 
friend, and an old friend. And you won't hurt me, though I am 
an insect." 

"What kind of insect?" Alice inquired a little anxiously. What 
she really wanted to know was, whether it could sting or not, but 
she thought this wouldn't be quite a civil question to ask. 

"What, then you don't — " the little voice began. . . . 

"Don't know who I am! Does anybody not know who I am?" He 
is afraid that even so innocent a love as his, like all love, may 
be cruel, and yet it is she who is able to hurt him, if only through 
his vanity. The implications of these few pages are so painful that 
the ironical calm of the close, when she kills it, seems delightfully 
gay and strong. The Gnat is suggesting to her that she would like 
to remain purely a creature of Nature and stay in the wood where 
there are no names. 

". . . That's a joke. I wish you had made it." 

"Why do you wish / had made it?" Alice asked. "It's a very 
bad one." 

But the Gnat only sighed deeply, while two large tears came 
rolling down its cheeks. 

"You shouldn't make jokes," Alice said, "if it makes you so 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 203 

Then came another of those melancholy little sighs, and this 
time the poor Gnat really seemed to have sighed itself away, for, 
when Alice looked up, there was nothing whatever to be seen on 
the twig, and, as she was getting quite chilly with sitting so long, 
she got up and walked on. 

The overpunctuation and the flat assonance of "long — on" add to 
the effect. There is something charmingly prim and well-meaning 
about the way she sweeps aside the feelings that she can't deal 
with. One need not suppose that Dodgson ever performed this 
scene, which he can imagine so clearly, but there is too much self- 
knowledge here to make the game of psychoanalysis seem merely 
good fun. 

The scene in which the Duchess has become friendly to Alice 
at the garden party shows Alice no longer separate from her cre- 
ator; it is clear that Dodgson would be as irritated as she is by 
the incident, and is putting himself in her place. The obvious way 
to read it is as the middle-aged woman trying to flirt with the 
chaste young man. 

"The game seems to be going on rather better now," she said. 

" 'Tis so," said the Duchess; "and the moral of it is — 'Oh, 'tis 
love, 'tis love, that makes the world go round!' " 

"Somebody said," whispered Alice, "that it's done by every- 
body minding their own business!" 

"Ah, well! It means much the same thing," said the Duchess, 
digging her sharp little chin into Alice's shoulder as she added, 
"and the moral of that is — Take care of the sense, and the 
sounds will take care of themselves.' " 

"How fond she is of finding morals in things," Alice thought 
to herself. 

Both are true because the generous and the selfish kinds of love 
have the same name; the Duchess seems to take the view of the 
political economists, that the greatest public good is produced by 
the greatest private selfishness. All this talk about "morals" makes 
Alice suspicious; also she is carrying a flamingo, a pink bird with 
a long neck. "The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in man- 
aging her flamingo ... it would twist itself round and look up 
in her face." 


"I dare say you're wondering why I don't put my arm round 
your waist," the Duchess said after a pause: "the reason is, that 
I'm doubtful about the temper of your flamingo. Shall I try the 

"He might bite," Alice cautiously replied, not feeling at all 
anxious to have the experiment tried. 

"Very true," said the Duchess: "flamingoes and mustard both 
bite. And the moral of that is — 'Birds of a feather flock to- 
gether.' " 

Mustard may be classed with the pepper that made her "ill- 
tempered" when she had so much of it in the soup, so that flamin- 
goes and mustard become the desires of the two sexes. No doubt 
Dodgson would be indignant at having this meaning read into 
his symbols, but the meaning itself, if he had been intending to 
talk about the matter, is just what he would have wished to say. 
The Duchess then jumps away to another aspect of the selfish- 
ness of our nature. 

"It's a mineral, I think," said Alice. 

"Of course it is," said the Duchess, who seemed ready to agree 
to everything that Alice said; "there's a large mustard-mine near 
here. And the moral of that is — The more there is of mine, the 
less there is of yours.' " 

One could put the same meanings in again, but a new one has 
come forward: "Industrialism is as merely greedy as sex; all we 
get from it is a sharper distinction between rich and poor." They 
go off into riddles about sincerity and how one can grow into 
what one would seem to be. 

This sort of "analysis" is a peep at machinery; the question for 
criticism is what is done with the machine. The purpose of a dream 
on the Freudian theory is simply to keep you in an undisturbed 
state so that you can go on sleeping; in the course of this practical 
work you may produce something of more general value, but not 
only of one sort. Alice has, I understand, become a patron saint 
of the Surrealists, but they do not go in for Comic Primness, a sort 
of reserve of force, which is her chief charm. Wyndham Lewis 
avoided putting her beside Proust and Lorelei to be danced on as 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 205 

a debilitating child cult (though she is a bit of pragmatist too); 
the present-day reader is more likely to complain of her com- 
placence. In this sort of child cult the child, though a means of 
imaginative escape, becomes the critic; Alice is the most reason- 
able and responsible person in the book. This is meant as charm- 
ingly pathetic about her as well as satire about her elders, and 
there is some implication that the sane man can take no other view 
of the world, even for controlling it, than the child does; but this 
is kept a good distance from sentimental infantilism. There is 
always some doubt about the meaning of a man who says he 
wants to be like a child, because he may want to be like it in 
having fresh and vivid feelings and senses, in not knowing, ex- 
pecting, or desiring evil, in not having an analytical mind, in 
having no sexual desires recognizable as such, or out of a desire 
to be mothered and evade responsibility. He is usually mixing them 
up — Christ's praise of children, given perhaps for reasons I have 
failed to list, has made it a respected thing to say, and it has been 
said often and loosely — but he can make his own mixture; Lewis' 
invective hardly shows which he is attacking. The praise of the 
child in the Alices mainly depends on a distaste not only for 
sexuality but for all the distortions of vision that go with a rich 
emotional life; the opposite idea needs to be set against this, that 
you can only understand people or even things by having such a 
life in yourself to be their mirror; but the idea itself is very re- 
spectable. So far as it is typical of the scientist the books are an 
expression of the scientific attitude (e.g. the bread-and-butter fly) 
or a sort of satire on it that treats it as inevitable. 

The most obvious aspect of the complacence is the snobbery. 
It is clear that Alice is not only a very well-brought-up but a very 
well-to-do little girl; if she has grown into Mabel, so that she 
will have to go and live in that poky little house and have next 
to no toys to play with, she will refuse to come out of her rabbit 
hole at all. One is only surprised that she is allowed to meet Mabel. 
All through the books odd objects of luxury are viewed rather as 
Wordsworth viewed mountains; meaningless, but grand and irre- 
movable; objects of myth. The whiting, the talking leg of mutton, 


the soup tureen, the tea tray in the sky, are obvious examples. 
The shift from the idea of the child's unity with nature is amusingly 
complete; a mere change in the objects viewed makes it at one 
with the conventions. But this is still not far from Wordsworth, 
who made his mountains into symbols of the stable and moral 
society living among them. In part the joke of this stands for the 
sincerity of the child that criticizes the folly of convention, but 
Alice is very respectful to conventions and interested to learn new 
ones; indeed the discussions about the rules of the game of con- 
versation, those stern comments on the isolation of humanity, put 
the tone so strongly in favor of the conventions that one feels there 
is nothing else in the world. There is a strange clash on this topic 
about the three little sisters discussed at the Mad Tea Party, who 
lived on treacle. "They couldn't have done that, you know," Alice 
gently remarked, "they'd have been ill." "So they were," said the 
Dormouse, "very ill." The creatures are always self-centered and 
argumentative, to stand for the detachment of the intellect from 
emotion, which is necessary to it and yet makes it childish. Then 
the remark stands both for the danger of taking as one's guide 
the natural desires ("this is the sort of thing little girls would do if 
they were left alone") and for a pathetic example of a martyrdom 
to the conventions; the little girls did not mind how ill they were 
made by living on treacle, because it was their rule, and they 
knew it was expected of them. (That they are refined girls is clear 
from the fact that they do allegorical sketches.) There is an ob- 
scure connection here with the belief of the period that a really 
nice girl is "delicate" (the profound sentences implied by the com- 
bination of meanings in this word are (a) "you cannot get a 
woman to be refined unless you make her ill" and more darkly 
(b) "she is desirable because corpselike"); Dodgson was always 
shocked to find that his little girls had appetites, because it made 
them seem less pure. The passage about the bread-and-butter fly 
brings this out more frankly, with something of the willful grim- 
ness of Webster. It was a creature of such high refinement that 
it could only live on weak tea with cream in it (tea being the 
caller's meal, sacred to the fair, with nothing gross about it). 
A new difficulty came into Alice's head. 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 207 

"Supposing it couldn't find any?" she suggested. 
"Then it would die, of course." 

"But that must happen very often," Alice remarked thought- 

"It always happens," said the Gnat. 

After this, Alice was silent for a minute or two, pondering. 

There need be no gloating over the child's innocence here, as 
in Barrie; anybody might ponder. Alice has just suggested that 
flies burn themselves to death in candles out of a martyr's ambi- 
tion to become Snapdragon flies. The talk goes on to losing one's 
name, which is the next stage on her journey, and brings freedom 
but is like death; the girl may lose her personality by growing up 
into the life of convention, and her virginity (like her surname) 
by marriage; or she may lose her "good name" when she loses the 
conventions "in the woods" — the animals, etc., there have no names 
because they are out of reach of the controlling reason; or when 
she develops sex she must neither understand nor name her feel- 
ings. The Gnat is weeping and Alice is afraid of the wood but 
determined to go on. "It always dies of thirst" or "it always dies 
in the end, as do we all"; "the life of highest refinement is the 
most deathly, yet what else is one to aim at when life is so brief, 
and when there is so little in it of any value." A certain ghoulish- 
ness in the atmosphere of this, of which the tight lacing may have 
been a product or partial cause, 1 comes out very strongly in Henry 
James; the decadents pounced on it for their own purposes but 
could not put more death wishes into it than these respectables 
had done already. 

The blend of child cult and snobbery that Alice shares with 
Oscar Wilde is indeed much more bouncing and cheerful; the 
theme here is that it is proper for the well-meaning and innocent 
girl to be worldly, because she, like the world, should know the 
value of her condition. "When we were girls we were brought up 
to know nothing, and very interesting it was"; "mamma, whose 
ideas on education are remarkably strict, has brought me up to 
be extremely shortsighted; so do you mind my looking at you 
through my glasses?" This joke seems to have come in after the 
Restoration dramatists as innocence recovered its social value; 


there are touches in Farquhar and it is strong in the Beggar's 
Opera. Sheridan has full control of it for Mrs. Malaprop. 

I don't think so much learning becomes a young woman. . . . 
But, Sir Anthony, I would send her, at nine years old, to a board- 
ing school, in order to learn a little ingenuity and artifice. Then, 
sir, she should have a supercilious knowledge in accounts; and as 
she grew up, I would have her instructed in geometry, that she 
might learn something of the contagious countries; but above all, 
Sir Anthony, she should be mistress of orthodoxy, that she might 
not mis-spell, and mispronounce words so shamefully as girls 
usually do; and likewise that she might reprehend the true mean- 
ing of what she is saying. 

Dodgson has an imitation of this which may show, what many 
of his appreciators seem anxious to deny, that even Wonderland 
contains straight satire. The Mock Turtle was taught at school 

Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with, and then the 
different branches of Arithmetic — Ambition, Distraction, Uglifi- 
cation, and Derision . . . Mystery, ancient and modern, with 
Seaography; then Drawling — the Drawling-master used to come 
once a week; he taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in 

Children are to enjoy the jokes as against education, grownups 
as against a smart and too expensive education. Alice was not one 
of the climbers taught like this, and remarks firmly elsewhere that 
manners are not learned from lessons. But she willingly receives 
social advice like "curtsey while you're thinking what to say, it 
saves time," and the doctrine that you must walk away from a 
queen if you really want to meet her has more point when said of 
the greed of the climber than of the unself-seeking curiosity of 
the small girl. Or it applies to both, and allows the climber a sense 
of purity and simplicity; I think this was a source of charm whether 
Dodgson meant it or not. Alice's own social assumptions are more 
subtle and all-pervading; she always seems to raise the tone of the 
company she enters, and to find this all the easier because the 
creatures are so rude to her. A central idea here is that the perfect 
lady can gain all the advantages of contempt without soiling her- 
self by expressing or even feeling it. 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 209 

This time there could be no mistake about it; it was neither 
more nor less than a pig, and she felt that it would be quite ab- 
surd for her to carry it any further. So she set the little creature 
down, and felt quite relieved to see it trot quietly away into the 
wood. "If it had grown up," she said to herself, "it would have 
made a dreadfully ugly child, but it makes rather a handsome 
pig, I think." And she began thinking over other children she 
knew, who might do very well as pigs, and was just saying to 
herself, "if only one knew the right way to change them — " when 
she was a little startled by seeing the Cheshire Cat on the bough 
of a tree a few yards off. 

The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good- 
natured, she thought: still it had very long claws and a great 
many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect. 

The effect of cuddling these mellow evasive phrases — "a good 
deal" — "do very well as" — whose vagueness can convey so rich 
an irony and so complete a detachment, while making so firm a 
claim to show charming good will, is very close to that of Wilde's 
comedy. So is the hint of a delicious slavishness behind the prim- 
ness, and contrasting with the irony, of the last phrase. (But then 
Dodgson feels the cat deserves respect as the detached intelligence 
— he is enjoying the idea that Alice and other social figures have 
got to respect Dodgson.) I think there is a feeling that the 
aristocrat is essentially like the child because it is his business 
to make claims in advance of his immediate personal merits; the 
child is not strong yet, and the aristocrat only as part of a system; 
the best he can do if actually asked for his credentials, since it 
would be indecent to produce his pedigree, is to display charm 
and hope it will appear unconscious, like the good young girl. 
Wilde's version of this leaves rather a bad taste in the mouth 
because it is slavish; it has something of the naive snobbery of the 
high-class servant. Whistler meant this by the most crashing of 
his insults — "Oscar now stands forth unveiled as his own 'gentle- 
man' " — when Wilde took shelter from a charge of plagiarism 
behind the claim that a gentleman does not attend to coarse abuse. 

Slavish, for one thing, because they were always juggling be- 
tween what they themselves thought wicked and what the society 
they addressed thought wicked, talking about sin when they meant 


scandal. The thrill of Pen, Pencil and Poison is in the covert 
comparison between Wilde himself and the poisoner, and Wilde 
certainly did not think his sexual habits as wicked as killing a 
friend to annoy an insurance company. By their very hints that 
they deserved notice as sinners they pretended to accept all the 
moral ideas of society, because they wanted to succeed in it, and 
yet society only took them seriously because they were connected 
with an intellectual movement which refused to accept some of 
those ideas. The Byronic theme of the man unable to accept the 
moral ideas of his society and yet torn by his feelings about them 
is real and permanent, but to base it on intellectual dishonesty is 
to short-circuit it; and leads to a claim that the life of highest re- 
finement must be allowed a certain avid infantile petulance. 

Alice is not a slave like this; she is almost too sure that she is 
good and right. The grownup is egged on to imitate her not as a 
privileged decadent but as a privileged eccentric, a Victorian figure 
that we must be sorry to lose. The eccentric though kind and 
noble would be alarming from the strength of his virtues if he were 
less funny; Dodgson saw to it that this underlying feeling about his 
monsters was brought out firmly by Tenniel, who had been trained 
on drawing very serious things like the British Lion weeping over 
Gordon, for Punch. Their massive and romantic nobility is, I think, 
an important element in the effect; Dodgson did not get it in his 
own drawings (nor, by the way, did he give all the young men 
eunuchoid legs) but no doubt he would have done so if he had 
been able. I should connect this weighty background with the tone 
of worldly goodness, of universal but not stupid charity, in Alice's 
remarks about the pig: "I shall do my best even for you; of course 
one will suffer, because you are not worth the efforts spent on 
you; but I have no temptation to be uncharitable to you because 
I am too far above you to need to put you in your place" — this 
is what her tone would develop into; a genuine readiness for 
self-sacrifice and a more genuine sense of power. 

The qualities held in so subtle a suspension in Alice are shown 
in full blast in the two queens. It is clear that this sort of moral 
superiority involves a painful isolation, similar to those involved 
in the intellectual way of life and the life of chastity, which are 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 211 

here associated with it. The reference to Maud (1855) brings this 
out. It was a shocking book; mockery was deserved; and its im- 
proper freedom was parodied by the flowers at the beginning of 
the Looking-Glass. A taint of fussiness hangs over this sort of 
essay, but the parodies were assumed to be obvious (children who 
aren't forced to learn Dr. Watts can't get the same thrill from 
parodies of him as the original children did) and even this parody 
is not as obvious as it was. There is no doubt that the flowers are 
much funnier if you compare them with their indestructible 

whenever a March-wind sighs 
He sets the jewel-print of your feet 
In violets blue as your eyes . . . 
the pimpernel dozed on the lea; 
But the rose was awake all night for your sake, 

Knowing your promise to me; 
The lilies and roses were all awake . . . 
Queen rose of the rose-bud garden of girls. . . . 

There has fallen a splendid tear 

From the passion-flower at the gate. 
She is coming, my dove, my dear; 

She is coming, my life, my fate; 
The red rose cries, "She is near, she is near"; 

And the white rose weeps, "She is late"; 
The larkspur listens, "I hear, I hear"; 

And the lily whispers, "I wait." 

"It isn't manners for us to begin, you know," said the Rose, 
"and I really was wondering when you'd speak." . . . "How is it 
that you all talk so nicely?" Alice said, hoping to get it into a bet- 
ter temper by a compliment. . . . "In most gardens," the Tiger- 
Lily said, "they make the beds too soft, so that the flowers are 
always asleep." This sounded a very good reason, and Alice was 
quite pleased to know it. "I never thought of that before!" she 
said. "It's my opinion you never think at all," the Rose said in 
rather a severe tone. "I never saw anybody that looked stupider," 
a Violet said, so suddenly, that Alice quite jumped; for it hadn't 
spoken before. . . . "She's coming!" cried the Larkspur. "I hear 
her footstep, thump, thump, along the gravelwalk!" Alice looked 
round eagerly, and found that it was the Red Queen — 

the concentrated essence, Dodgson was to explain, of all gov- 
ernesses. The Tiger Lily was originally a Passionflower, but it was 


explained to Dodgson in time that the passion meant was not that 
of sexual desire (which he relates to ill-temper) but of Christ; a 
brilliant recovery was made after the shock of this, for Tiger-Lily 
includes both the alarming fierceness of ideal passion (chaste till 
now) and the ill-temper of the life of virtue and self-sacrifice typi- 
fied by the governess (chaste always). So that in effect he includes 
all the flowers Tennyson named. The willow tree that said Bough- 
Wough doesn't come in the poem, but it is a symbol of hopeless 
love anyway. The pink daisies turn white out of fear, as the white 
ones turn pink in the poem out of admiration. I don't know how 
far we ought to notice the remark about beds, which implies that 
they should be hard because even passion demands the virtues of 
asceticism (they are also the earthy beds of the grave) ; it fits in 
very well with the ideas at work, but does not seem a thing Dodg- 
son would have said in clearer language. 

But though he shied from the Christian association in the com- 
plex idea wanted from "Passion-Flower" the flowers make another 
one very firmly. 

"But that's not your fault," the Rose added kindly: "you're be- 
ginning to fade, you know — and then one can't help one's petals 
getting a little untidy." Alice didn't like this idea at all: so, to 
change the subject, she asked "Does she ever come out here?" "I 
daresay you'll see her soon," said the Rose. "She's one of the 
thorny kind." "Where does she wear the thorns?" Alice asked 
with some curiosity. "Why, all round her head, of course," the 
Rose replied. "I was wondering you hadn't got some too. I 
thought it was the regular rule." 

Death is never far out of sight in the books. The Rose cannot 
help standing for desire but its thorns here stand for the ill-temper 
not so much of passion as of chastity, that of the governess or 
that involved in ideal love. Then the thorns round the Queen's 
head, the "regular rule" for suffering humanity, not yet assumed 
by the child, stand for the Passion, the self-sacrifice of the most 
ideal and most generous love, which produces ugliness and ill- 

The joke of making romantic love ridiculous by applying it to 
undesired middle-aged women is less to be respected than the joke 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 213 

of the hopelessness of idealism. W. S. Gilbert uses it for the same 
timid facetiousness but more offensively. This perhaps specially 
nineteenth-century trick is played about all the women in the 
Alices — the Ugly Duchess who had the aphrodisiac in the soup 
(pepper, as Alice pointed out, produces "ill-temper") was the same 
person as the Queen in the first draft ("Queen of Hearts and 
Marchioness of Mock Turtles") so that the Queen's sentence of her 
is the suicide of disruptive passion. The Mock Turtle, who is half 
beef in the picture, with a cloven hoof, suffers from the calf love 
of a turtledove; he went to a bad school and is excited about danc- 
ing. (He is also weeping for his lost childhood, which Dodgson 
sympathized with while blaming its exaggeration, and Alice thought 
very queer; this keeps it from being direct satire.) So love is also 
ridiculous in young men; it is felt that these two cover the whole 
field (Dodgson was about thirty at the time) so that granted these 
points the world is safe for chastity. The danger was from middle- 
aged women because young women could be treated as pure like 
Alice. Nor indeed is this mere convention; Gilbert was relying on 
one of the more permanent jokes played by nature on civilization, 
that unless somewhat primitive methods are employed the specific 
desires of refined women may appear too late. So far as the chaste 
man uses this fact, and the fact that men are hurt by permanent 
chastity less than women, in order to insult women, no fuss that he 
may make about baby women will make him dignified. Dodgson 
keeps the theme fairly agreeable by connecting it with the more 
general one of self-sacrifice — which may be useless or harmful, 
even when spontaneous or part of a reasonable convention, which 
then makes the sacrificer ridiculous and crippled, but which even 
then makes him deserve respect and may give him unexpected 
sources of power. The man playing at child cult arrives at Sex War 
here (as usual since, but the comic Lear didn't), but not to the 
death nor with all weapons. 

The same ideas are behind the White Queen, the emotional as 
against the practical idealist. It seems clear that the Apologia 
(1864) is in sight when she believes the impossible for half an 
hour before breakfast, to keep in practice; I should interpret the 
two examples she gives as immortality and putting back the clock 


of history, also Mass occurs before breakfast. All through the Wool 
and Water chapter (milk and water but not nourishing, and gritty 
to the teeth) she is Oxford; the life of learning rather than of 
dogmatic religion. Every one recognizes the local shop, the sham 
fights, the rowing, the academic old sheep, and the way it laughs 
scornfully when Alice doesn't know the technical slang of rowing; 
and there are some general reflections on education. The teacher 
willfully puts the egg a long way off, so that you have to walk after 
it yourself, and meanwhile it turns into something else; and when 
you have "paid for" the education its effects, then first known, 
must be accepted as part of you whether they are good or bad. 
Oxford as dreamy may be half satire half acceptance of Arnold's 
"adorable dreamer" purple patch (1865). 

Once at least in each book a cry of loneliness goes up from Alice 
at the oddity beyond sympathy or communication of the world she 
has entered — whether that in which the child is shut by weakness, 
or the adult by the renunciations necessary both for the ideal and 
the worldly way of life (the strength of the snobbery is to imply 
that these are the same). It seems strangely terrible that the an- 
swers of the White Queen, on the second of these occasions, should 
be so unanswerable. 

By this time it was getting light. "The crow must have flown 
away, I think," said Alice: "I'm so glad it's gone. I thought it was 
the night coming on." 

Even in the rhyme the crow may be fear of death. The rhymes, 
like those other main structural materials, chess and cards, are 
useful because, being fixed, trivial, odd, and stirring to the imagi- 
nation, they affect one as conventions of the dream world, and this 
sets the tone about conventions. 

"I wish I could manage to be glad!" the Queen said. "Only I 
never can remember the rule. You must be very happy, living in 
this wood, and being glad whenever you like." 

So another wood has turned out to be Nature. This use of "that's a 
rule" is Sheridan's in The Critic; the pathos of its futility is that 
it is an attempt of reason to do the work of emotion and escape 
the dangers of the emotional approach to life. There may be a 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 215 

glance at the Oxford Movement and dogma. Perhaps chiefly a 
satire on the complacence of the fashion of slumming, the remark 
seems to spread out into the whole beauty and pathos of the ideas 
of pastoral; by its very universality her vague sympathy becomes 
an obscure self-indulgence. 

"Only it is so very lonely here!" Alice said in a melancholy 
voice; and at the thought of her loneliness two large tears came 
rolling down her cheeks. 

"Oh, don't go on like that," cried the poor Queen, wringing 
her hands in despair. "Consider what a great girl you are. Con- 
sider what a long way you've come to-day. Consider what o'clock 
it is. Consider anything, only don't cry!" ■» 

Alice could not help laughing at this, even in the midst of her 
tears. "Can you keep from crying by considering things?" she 

"That's the way it's done," the Queen said with great decision; 
"nobody can do two things at once, you know. Let's consider 
your age to begin with — how old are you?" 

We are back at once to the crucial topic of age and the fear of 
death, and pass to the effectiveness of practice in helping one to 
believe the impossible; for example that the aging Queen is so old 
that she would be dead. The helplessness of the intellect, which 
claims to rule so much, is granted under cover of the counterclaim 
that since it makes you impersonal you can forget pain with it; we 
do not believe this about the Queen chiefly because she has not 
enough understanding of other people. The jerk of the return to 
age, and the assumption that this is a field for polite lying, make 
the work of the intellect only the game of conversation. Humpty 
Dumpty has the same embarrassing trick for arguing away a 
suggestion of loneliness. Indeed about all the rationalism of Alice 
and her acquaintances there hangs a suggestion that there are after 
all questions of pure thought, academic thought whose altruism is 
recognized and paid for, thought meant only for the upper classes 
to whom the conventions are in any case natural habit; like that 
suggestion that the scientist is sure to be a gentleman and has 
plenty of space which is the fascination of Kew Gardens. 

The Queen is a very inclusive figure. "Looking before and after" 
with the plaintive tone of universal altruism she lives chiefly back- 


wards, in history; the necessary darkness of growth, the mysteries 
of self-knowledge, the self-contradictions of the will, the antinomies 
of philosophy, the very Looking-Glass itself, impose this; nor is it 
mere weakness to attempt to resolve them only in the direct im- 
pulse of the child. Gathering the more dream rushes her love for 
man becomes the more universal, herself the more like a porcupine. 
Knitting with more and more needles she tries to control life by a 
more and more complex intellectual apparatus — the "progress" of 
Herbert Spencer; any one shelf of the shop is empty, but there is 
always something very interesting — the "atmosphere" of the place 
is so interesting — which moves up as you look at it from shelf to 
shelf; there is jam only in the future and our traditional past, and 
the test made by Alice, who sent value through the ceiling as if it 
were quite used to it, shows that progress can never reach value, 
because its habitation and name is heaven. The Queen's scheme of 
social reform, which is to punish those who are not respectable 
before their crimes are committed, seems to be another of these 
jokes about progress: 

"But if you hadn't done them," the Queen said, "that would 
have been better still; better, and better, and better!" Her voice 
went higher with each "better" till it got to quite a squeak at last. 

There is a similar attack in the Walrus and the Carpenter, who are 
depressed by the spectacle of unimproved nature and engage in 
charitable work among oysters. The Carpenter is a Castle and the 
Walrus, who could eat so many more because he was crying behind 
his handkerchief, was a Bishop, in the scheme at the beginning of 
the book. But in saying so one must be struck by the depth at which 
the satire is hidden; the queerness of the incident and the charac- 
ters takes on a Wordsworthian grandeur and aridity, and the land- 
scape defined by the tricks of facetiousness takes on the remote and 
staring beauty of the ideas of the insane. It is odd to find that 
Tenniel went on to illustrate Poe in the same manner; Dodgson 
is often doing what Poe wanted to do, and can do it the more 
easily because he can safely introduce the absurd. The Idiot Boy of 
Wordsworth is too milky a moonlit creature to be at home with 
Nature as she was deplored by the Carpenter, and much of the 

Alice in Wonderland: The Child as Swain 217 

technique of the rudeness of the Mad Hatter has been learned from 
Hamlet. It is the ground bass of this kinship with insanity, I think, 
that makes it so clear that the books are not trifling, and the cool 
courage with which Alice accepts madmen that gives them their 

This talk about the snobbery of the Alices may seem a mere 
attack, but a little acid may help to remove the slime with which 
they have been encrusted. The two main ideas behind the snob- 
bery, that virtue and intelligence are alike lonely, and that good 
manners are therefore important though an absurd confession of 
human limitations, do not depend on a local class system; they 
would be recognized in a degree by any tolerable society. And if 
in a degree their opposites must also be recognized, so they are 
here; there are solid enough statements of the shams of altruism 
and convention and their horrors when genuine; it is the forces 
of this conflict that make a clash violent enough to end both the 
dreams. In Wonderland this is mysteriously mixed up with the trial 
of the Knave of Hearts, the thief of love, but at the end of the 
second book the symbolism is franker and more simple. She is a 
grown queen and has acquired the conventional dignities of her 
insane world; suddenly she admits their insanity, refuses to be a 
grown queen, and destroys them. 

"I can't stand this any longer!" she cried, as she seized the 
table-cloth in both hands: one good pull, and plates, dishes, 
guests, and candles came crashing down together in a heap on 
the floor. 

The guests are inanimate and the crawling self-stultifying machin- 
ery of luxury has taken on a hideous life of its own. It is the High 
Table of Christ Church that we must think of here. The gentleman 
is not the slave of his conventions because at need he could destroy 
them; and yet, even if he did this, and all the more because he 
does not, he must adopt while despising it the attitude to them of 
the child. 

1 It was getting worse when the Alices were written. In what Mr. Hugh 
Kingsmill calls "the fatal fifties" skirts were so big that the small waist was 
not much needed for contrast, so it can't be blamed for the literary works 
of that decade. 

Geoffrey Gorer 

The Myth in Jane Austen 

Everybody, or at any rate nearly everybody, 
who is fond of English literature is devoted to the works of Jane 
Austen; that is pretty generally agreed. It is so generally agreed that 
it never seems to have occurred to anybody to inquire why these 
"pictures of domestic life in country villages," to use her own 
phrase, are able to excite such passionate adoration, or, if the in- 
quiry is made, it is answered in terms of technique and observation. 
But I do not consider this answer adequate — after all, the almost 
unread Miss Emily Eden was not lacking in either of these quali- 
ties — and I wish to suggest that there are profounder reasons for 
the excessive love which she excites in so many of her admirers 
from Scott and Macaulay to Rudyard Kipling and Sir John Squire. 
The adoration of Miss Austen has at times nearly approached a 
cult — the sect of "Janeites" — and I propose to try to uncover the 
mystery behind the worship. The mystery is no unfamiliar one. 

It is necessary to mention a few dates. Jane Austen was born in 
1775, the youngest daughter of a country clergyman; her father 
died in 1805, and she then lived with her mother till her own death 
in 1817. She never married. In her correspondence she appears to 

The Myth in Jane Austen 219 

have been devoted to her brothers and sisters, particularly her next 
eldest sister Cassandra: two of her brothers were in the navy. She 
started writing very young, and the first motive which turned her to 
writing was, as is clearly shown by the juvenile Love and Friend- 
ship, satire, or, to use the contemporary phrase, debunking. During 
Jane Austen's youth the Gothic novel, with its exaggerated emo- 
tions and incredible occurrences, was at the height of its fantastic 
popularity. At that period as at all others in later European history, 
the emotions depicted in the most popular poetry and fiction of the 
time were reflected by the majority of their ardent readers. (Until 
Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald wrote, the behavior of "the lost 
generation" was not stereotyped. ) The Gothic novel and the con- 
temporary poetry — Byron and Scott — evoked greatly enhanced 
and self-indulged sensibility and poignant feeling. Jane Austen was 
temperamentally unable to feel these violent emotions and, as a 
realist, did not believe they were genuine. An example of her early 
attitude occurs in Love and Friendship, in which the heroine ad- 
vises the narrator that, when she is overcome by powerful emo- 
tions, she should choose to run mad, rather than to go into fainting 
fits; the reason being that with running mad one gets some health- 
ful exercise, whereas with continuous fainting one is likely to fall 
on damp places and catch pneumonia. 

It was in this spirit of mockery that she wrote Love and Friend- 
ship, and to a great extent Northanger Abbey which was written in 
1798; it was also one of the primary motivations in writing Sense 
and Sensibility, which was begun in 1797, but from internal evi- 
dence, was almost completely revised before it was published in 
1813. Pride and Prejudice, which we know to have been com- 
pletely recast from the first draft made in 1796, was published 
the same year. Mansfield Park was written in 1812-13, Emma, in 
1814-15, and Persuasion in 1815-16. The order in which the 
books were written is important to my thesis. 

Northanger Abbey is to a very great extent satirical, and much 
of the plot springs from the originals it is debunking; it shows 
certain features in common with the other novels, but I do not 
propose to study it in detail. Persuasion, the last novel of all, is so 
important as to need separate treatment. At the moment I wish 


to discuss the four central novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and 
Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, to give the order in which they 
were written and in which I shall refer to them. 

These four novels, though differing in details and characters, 
have all the same central theme; and it is this theme which I call 
Jane Austen's myth. All four novels are about young women 
(Marianne, Elizabeth, Fanny, Emma) who are made love to by, 
but finally reject, the Charming but Worthless lover (Willoughby, 
Wickham, Crawford, Frank Churchill) and finally marry a man 
whom they esteem and admire rather than love passionately (Colo- 
nel Brandon, Darcy, Edmund Bertram, Mr. Knightley). But the 
similarities in the novels do not end here; in all except the last to 
be written, Emma, when Mrs. Woodhouse is dead before the novel 
opens, the heroine's misfortunes and discomforts are to a very 
great extent due to the folly, stupidity or malice of her mother 
(Mrs. Dashwood encourages Marianne in her romanticism; Mrs. 
Bennet's behavior is directly responsible for Elizabeth's and Jane's 
unhappiness (ch. 35) and, it is suggested, for Lydia's elopement; 
poor Fanny Price has no less than three stupid, incompetent and 
spiteful mothers — Mrs. Price, Aunt Bertram and Aunt Norris — and, 
though Emma is motherless, her dangerous flirtation with Frank 
Churchill is forwarded by her mother-surrogate, Mrs. Weston). As 
in three out of four of the novels the heroine actively dislikes her 
mother, so, in three out of four of the novels she marries a man 
who stands in an almost paternal relationship to her. Marianne 
Dashwood finally marries Colonel Brandon of whom she says 
(ch. 7) "He is old enough to be my father. . . . When is a man to 
be safe from such wit, if age and infirmity will not protect him?" 
Fanny Price marries Edmund Bertram who had been "loving, 
guiding, protecting her as he had been doing ever since she was ten 
years old, her mind in so great a degree formed by his care . . . 
etc." (ch. 48). It is true that Miss Austen insists that their relation- 
ship is that of brother and sister (ch. 37, 46), but it is an unusual 
fraternal relationship, with protection entirely on one side and re- 
spect on the other. Mr. Knightley stands in a quite overtly paternal 
relationship to Emma; indeed, with his feebleness and hypochon- 
dria Mr. Woodhouse seems more like the grandfather than the 

The Myth in Jane Austen 221 

father of a young woman. Mr. Knightley on the other hand fills 
every office of a father; "from family attachment and habit, and 
through excellence of mind, he had loved her and watched over 
her from a girl, with an endeavor to improve her, and an anxiety 
for her doing right, which no other creature had at all shared" 
(ch. 48). He scolds her and gives her advice (e.g. ch. 1, 43) and 
watches the progress of her studies (ch. 5), and, when she dances, 
stays with the other parents who watch the young people amusing 
themselves (ch. 38). It is the most obvious of the identifications. 

Elizabeth, in Pride and Prejudice, does, it is true, marry young 
Mr. Darcy, but has anybody, even the author, been convinced 
that she loved him, or that she entertained any feelings warmer 
than respect or gratitude? Surely her own remark, that she must 
date her affection "from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at 
Pemberley" (ch. 59), represents the psychological truth. More- 
over, there are other passages in which Miss Austen reveals the 
type of emotion which connected Elizabeth and Darcy. A couple 
of days before she does finally accept him Elizabeth muses to 
herself "If he is satisfied with only regretting me, when he might 
have obtained my affections and hand I shall soon cease to regret 
him at all" (ch. 57). The really warm relationship in the novel 
is that between Elizabeth and her father, Mr. Bennet; Elizabeth 
is his favorite daughter (ch. 1) and they are able to share in 
private intimate jokes from which even the rest of the family are 
excluded; they are so attached that, when Elizabeth plans to go 
away for a short visit "The only pain was in leaving her father, 
who would certainly miss her, and who, when it came to the 
point, so little liked her going, that he told her to write to him, 
and almost promised to answer her letter" (ch. 27). And one of 
the chief consolations of her marriage with Darcy was that Mr. 
Bennet "delighted in going to Pemberley, especially when he was 
least expected" (ch. 61). 

If these various features had occurred in only one novel they 
could be set down to inventiveness; their fourfold repetition shows 
that they were overwhelmingly important, at any rate for the au- 
thor. This central myth — the girl who hates and despises her 
mother and marries a father-surrogate — is not the exclusive in- 


vention of Miss Austen; though, until she wrote, the sexes had 
been reversed and the subject considered fitter for tragedy than 
comedy. The most famous example is Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. 
For psychoanalysts, there will be little cause for surprise at the 
ease with which most of her readers so passionately identify with 
her heroines. 

I have seen it suggested somewhere that Bernard Shaw owes 
much of his success to the fact that he refuses to take love seri- 
ously, and Mr. Maugham has written that "the English are not a 
sexual nation, and you cannot easily persuade them that a man 
will sacrifice anything important for love." If these diagnoses are 
true, there is an added reason for Miss Austen's popularity. There 
has probably never been a more ferocious debunker of passionate 
or sexual love than Jane Austen in the four central novels. The 
Charming but Worthless lovers in the four central novels have 
already been listed; the same stereotype occurs in N onhanger Ab- 
bey (Captain Tilney: Mrs. Allen is a Silly Mother in the same 
book) and in Persuasion (W. W. Elliot). In four of the books 
the heroine is attracted momentarily by this stereotype, while in 
two (Mansfield Park, Persuasion) she resists their insidious (sex- 
ual) charm; but in all sexual love is portrayed as a snare and a 
sham, leading only to guilt, misery, and cooled affections. 

Persuasion, the last of the novels to be written, is in remark- 
able contrast to the other four. The central figures of the myth 
are still present, but their roles are considerably modified. There 
are two "mothers," one dead before the story opens but stated to 
have every good quality (Emma's mother was completely charac- 
terless); and although the other "mother," Lady Russell, is, as 
usual, the chief cause of the heroine's unhappiness, the author 
treats her far more leniently than she had done before, even sug- 
gesting that there may be some excuses for her behavior. There 
are two Charming lovers, one, W. W. Elliot, the Worthless stereo- 
type of the earlier novels; but though the heroine, Anne, had, ten 
years before the story opened, dismissed the other lover, Captain 
Wentworth, in exactly the same way as all Jane Austen's heroines 
dismiss all their Charming lovers, the sentiments he had excited 
had not disappeared with his dismissal; she still loves him and 

The Myth in Jane Austen 223 

at the end of the book marries him. But it is the treatment of the 
father which is the most revolutionary; Sir Walter Elliot, alone 
of the fathers in the six novels, is portrayed unmercifully as a vain, 
proud, stupid and endlessly selfish man; it is the most bitterly 
drawn character in all the novels, untempered by affection or sym- 
pathetic amusement. Not even the numerous "mothers" are treated 
with such active dislike. 

Coming after the obsessive portrayal of the "father-daughter" 
relationships in the other novels, this sudden reversal is the more 
surprising. Indeed, it seems to suggest the possibility of a deeply 
personal motivation. Although it is impossible to know the child- 
hood history of Jane Austen or to do more than guess at what her 
character was, I suggest that in her youth, probably 1797 or 1798, 
just before writing Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen did in fact 
refuse a Charming lover; this may have been at the persuasion of 
her father or because she could not support the idea of leaving 
him alone, and could not break the bond which bound them so 
closely to one another. Through the intervening years she wrote 
and rewrote her personal dilemma proving to herself that all had 
been for the best, even though meanwhile father had died, leaving 
her alone with her mother (and the novels show her belief was 
that the only good mothers were dead mothers). 

We know very little about the personal motives which impel 
writers of imaginative works to develop their fictions; but I should 
like to suggest that, at least in Jane Austen's case, the central 
fantasy corresponds very closely to the manifest content of a 
dream; and I should further like to suggest that the elaboration 
of the fantasy into a novel corresponds in some way to the ana- 
lytic interpretation of a dream and the working through of the 
dilemma that the dream represents. In this connection it is neces- 
sary to stress the fact that the five major novels, in the form in 
which we have them, were written in as many years, and appar- 
ently one immediately after the other; considering the short time 
taken in writing, the output is enormous. N onhanger Abbey seems 
never to have been revised. If we take the central plots of these 
five novels as dreams, we can clearly trace the gradual working 
out and alteration of Jane Austen's attitudes toward the members 


of her family constellation. It is necessary to remember that her 
father was a clergyman, her favorite brother a sailor, and her 
sister Cassandra her greatest confidante and friend. 

In Sense and Sensibility the identification between the sisters 
is so complete that they seem like the split facets of a single per- 
sonality. They are completely devoted to one another. One of 
these sisters, Marianne, marries an elderly man, after having first 
been attracted by a Worthless lover; the other, Elinor, has always 
loved, and finally marries a clergyman. The sisters' mother is silly 
and well-meaning, and increases her daughters' unhappiness; the 
clergyman's mother does everything to thwart her son. The girls' 
father is dead. 

In Pride and Prejudice the love between the heroine and one 
sister, Jane, is extremely strong; but there are three other sisters 
who are despised. The heroine finally makes up her mind to marry 
a rich and desirable young man, by which means she gets away 
from her hated mother and silly sisters and has her father from 
time to time to herself. She rejects a silly clergyman, and also a 
Worthless lover. Her mother and sisters are the cause of her mis- 
ery. Her father is the most beloved person in the book. 

In Mansfield Park the heroine has no sisters whom she loves. 
She has two sister substitutes, whom she hates, and a real sister 
whom she meets late in life and likes temperately. She immedi- 
ately loves and eventually marries a clergyman, considerably older 
than herself, who stands midway between the role of father and 
brother. She has a brother, a sailor, to whom she is very attached. 
She has three silly and spiteful mothers. She rejects a Worthless 
lover. Apart from the father-brother, there are two other fathers, 
one of whom is unsympathetic and the other coarse. 

In Emma the heroine has one sister, whom she looks down on 
as foolish and overdomesticated. She marries an elderly man who 
had always stood in the role of a father. She rejects a silly clergy- 
man and a Worthless lover. Her characterless mother is dead, and 
the mother-substitute is kind and foolish. Besides the man she 
marries, there is another father, senile, hypochondriacal, and gently 

In Persuasion the heroine has two sisters whom she hates, and 

The Myth in Jane Austen 225 

who exploit and neglect her. She has always loved and finally 
marries a sailor, a man of her own age, though, under the persua- 
sion of a mother-substitute, she had once rejected him. She rejects 
a Worthless lover. The clergyman is married to a tepidly liked 
sister-substitute. Her ideal mother is dead, the mother-substitute 
is well-meaning but foolish and inadvertently causes the heroine 
great distress. The father is hated, proud, silly and endlessly selfish. 
It seems as though, by thus reworking her fantasies, Jane Austen 
had finally uncovered for herself the hidden motives behind the 
too warm, too loving, family relationships which circumscribed 
her life. Using symbols, she analyzed her own problems; Persua- 
sion was her final solution. In this book she cried out against her 
starved life, and the selfishness of the father and sisters on whose 
account it had been starved. When she wrote this book she was 
nearly at the end of her life, lonely, middle-aged, and nearing the 
menopause. She could now only voice her regret, her despair. It 
is this note which makes Persuasion, with its poignant and sus- 
tained emotion, so completely different to her earlier and more 
exuberant novels. In the midst of her satirical observation Jane 
Austen had hidden a myth which corresponded to a facet of uni- 
versal apprehension, a hidden myth which probably holds good 
for her myriad admirers; but in her last novel she rejected her 
myth, her fantasy, because she had learned that, like all myths, it 
was eventually an enemy of life. 

Simon O. Lesser 

The Image of the Father 

A Reading of "My Kinsman, Major Molineux' 
and "I Want to Know Why" 

The scene of Hawthorne's story "My Kinsman, 
Major Molineux" is a New England colony; the time, like the 
place not too precisely fixed, a "moonlight" night during that 
period before the Revolution when Great Britain "had assumed 
the right of appointing the colonial governors." 

A young boy of eighteen, named Robin, has come to town to 
seek his relative, Major Molineux. The Major is either governor of 
the colony or a subordinate of high rank — just which is not made 
clear. The boy has good reasons for wanting to find him. He is the 
second son of a poor clergyman. His elder brother is destined to in- 
herit the farm "which his father cultivated in the interval of sacred 
duties." The Major is not only rich and influential but childless, 
and, during a visit paid his cousin the clergyman a year or two 
before the story opens, has shown an interest in Robin and his 
brother and hinted he would be happy to establish one of them 
in life. Robin has been selected for the honor, handsomely fitted 

The Image of the Father 227 

out in homespun, and, to cover the expenses of his journey, given 
half the remnant of his father's salary of the year before. 

Just before reaching the town Robin has had to cross a river, 
and it occurs to him that he should have perhaps asked the ferry- 
man to direct him to the home of his kinsman or perhaps even 
accompany him as a guide. But he reflects that the first person he 
meets will serve as well. To his surprise, however, he experiences 
rebuff after rebuff, difficulty upon difficulty. He asks an elderly 
gentleman to direct him, but the man not only disclaims any knowl- 
edge of the Major; he rebukes Robin so angrily — the youth has 
impulsively gripped the old man's coat — that some people nearby 
roar with laughter. Robin now wanders through a maze of deserted 
streets near the waterfront. Coming to a still-open tavern, he de- 
cides to make inquiry there. He is at first cordially received, but 
as soon as he asks to be directed to his relative, the innkeeper be- 
gins to read the description of an escaped "bounden servant," look- 
ing at Robin in such a way as to suggest that the description fits 
him exactly. Robin leaves, derisive laughter ringing in his ears for 
the second time that night. 

Now the youth loiters up and down a spacious street, looking 
at each man who passes by in the hope of finding the Major. He 
is now so tired and hungry that he begins to consider the wisdom 
of lifting his cudgel and compelling the first passer-by he meets 
to direct him to his kinsman. While toying with this idea, he turns 
down an empty and rather disreputable street. Through the half- 
open door of the third house he passes he catches a glimpse of a 
lady wearing a scarlet petticoat and decides to address his inquiry 
to her. His appearance and voice are winning, and the lady steps 
outside to talk to him. She proves both attractive and hospitable. 
Intimating that she is the housekeeper of the Major, who she says 
is asleep, she offers to welcome the youth in his stead. Though 
Robin only half believes her, he is about to follow her when she 
is startled by the opening of a door in a nearby house and leaves 
him to run into her own. 

A watchman now approaches, muttering sleepy threats. They 
are perfunctory, but sufficient to discourage Robin temporarily 
from inquiring for his kinsman. He shouts an inquiry just as the 


watchman is about to vanish around a comer, but receives no 
reply. Robin thinks he hears a sound of muffled laughter. He 
quite clearly hears a pleasant titter from an open window above 
his head, whence a round arm beckons him. Being a clergyman's 
son and a good youth, Robin flees. 

He now roams through the town "desperately, and at random, 
. . . almost ready to believe that a spell was on him." 

Encountering a solitary passer-by in the shadow of a church 
steeple, Robin insists on being directed to the home of his kins- 
man. The passer-by unmuffles his face. He proves to be a man 
Robin had noticed earlier at the tavern, but now half of his face 
has been painted a livid red, the other half black. Grinning at the 
surprised youth, the man tells him that his kinsman will pass that 
very spot within the hour. Robin settles down on the church steps 
to wait. As he struggles against drowsiness, strange and extraordi- 
narily vivid fantasies flit through his mind. He dozes but, hearing 
a man pass by, wakes and inquires, with unwarranted peevishness, 
if he must wait there all night for his kinsman, Major Molineux. 
The stranger approaches and, seeing a country youth who is ap- 
parently homeless and without friends, offers to be of help. After 
hearing Robin's story he joins him to wait the arrival of the 

Shortly a mighty stream of people come into view. Robin grad- 
ually makes out that some of them are applauding spectators, some 
participants in a curious procession. It is headed by a single horse- 
man, who bears a drawn sword and whose face is painted red and 
black: he is the man who has told Robin that his kinsman would 
pass that way within the hour. Behind the horseman come a band 
of wind instruments, men carrying torches, and then men in Indian 
and many other kinds of costume. 

Robin has a feeling that he is involved in this procession, a feel- 
ing which is quickly confirmed. As the torches approach him, the 
leader thunders a command, the parade stops, the tumult dies 

Right before Robin's eye was an uncovered cart. There the 
torches blazed the brightest, there the moon shone out like day, 
and there, in tar-and-feathery dignity, sat his kinsman, Major 

The Image of the Father 229 

The Major is a large and majestic man, but now his body is 
"agitated by a quick and continual tremor" he cannot quell. The 
encounter with Robin causes him to suffer still more deeply. He 
recognizes the youth on the instant. 

Staring at his kinsman, Robin's knees shake and his hair bristles. 
Soon, however, a curious change sets in. The adventures of the 
night, his fatigue, the confusion of the spectacle, above all "the 
spectre of his kinsman reviled by that great multitude . . . [affect] 
him with a sort of mental inebriety." In the crowd he sees the 
watchman he has encountered earlier, enjoying his amazement. A 
woman twitches his arm: it is the minx of the scarlet petticoat. 
Finally, from the balcony of the large house across from the church 
comes a great, broad laugh which momentarily dominates every- 
thing: it is the formidable old man of whom Robin made his first 
inquiries and whom he later went out of his way to avoid. 

Then Robin seemed to hear the voices of . . . all who had made 
sport of him that night. The contagion was spreading among the 
multitude, when all at once, it seized upon Robin, and he sent 
forth a shout of laughter that echoed through the street, — every 
man shook his sides, every man emptied his lungs, but Robin's 
shout was the loudest there. 

When the laughter has momentarily spent its force, the proces- 
sion is resumed. Robin asks the gentleman who has been sitting 
beside him to direct him to the ferry. The Major, the boy realizes, 
will scarcely desire to see his face again. In the friendliest possible 
way the gentleman refuses Robin's request. He tells the youth that 
he will speed him on his journey in a few days if he still wants to 
leave. But he suggests another possibility. " '. . . if you prefer to 
remain with us, perhaps, as you are a shrewd youth, you may rise 
in the world without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux.' " 

"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" belongs, I believe, among 
Hawthorne's half-dozen greatest short stories. But unexpected diffi- 
culties arise when one attempts to account for the spell the story 


casts. Although it seems clear enough as it is read, it resists anal- 
ysis. Above all, its climax is puzzling. "Mental inebriety" is hardly 
an adequate explanation for a youth's barefaced mockery of an 
elderly relative for whom he had been searching, whose ill-treat- 
ment might have been expected to inspire feelings of compassion 
and anger. 

Of the half-dozen critics who have discussed the story, surpris- 
ingly, no more than two seem aware that it presents any difficulties. 
The rest accept Hawthorne's explanation at face value. They re- 
gard "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" as the story of an ignorant 
country youth who, happening to wander upon the scene at an 
inopportune time, is first frustrated in his search as a result of the 
preparation the colonists are making and then becomes a reluctant 
and confused spectator at their humiliation of his kinsman. Such 
an interpretation not only fails to explain many aspects of the 
story; it hardly suggests why the story should interest us. It is per- 
haps significant that the critics who recognize that the story is by 
no means so one-dimensional as this, Malcolm Cowley and Q. D. 
Leavis, also show the keenest awareness of its greatness. Unfortu- 
nately even these critics have not succeeded, in my opinion, in 
penetrating to the story's richest veins of meaning. 

Malcolm Cowley describes the story as "the legend of a youth 
who achieves manhood through searching for a spiritual father and 
finding that the object of his search is an imposter" (Introduction 
to The Portable Hawthorne). Leaving to one side the question of 
whether Robin is searching for a spiritual father, it may be said at 
once that there is no evidence that Major Molineux is an imposter. 
The first paragraph of the story tells us that the colonial servants 
appointed by Great Britain were likely to be resented even when 
they carried out instructions with some lenience; and we are later 
told that the Major's head had "grown gray in honor." 

Mrs. Leavis regards "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" as a "pro- 
phetic forecast of . . . the rejection of England that was to occur 
in fact much later" ("Hawthorne as Poet," Sewanee Review, Spring 
1951). This is by no means as far-fetched a reading of the story 
as it may at first appear. It has the merit of calling attention to a 
rebelliousness in Robin for which, as we shall see, there is a great 

The Image of the Father 23 1 

deal of evidence. But as I think will become clear, Mrs. Leavis 
has perceived a secondary implication of that rebelliousness; it has 
a much more intimate source and reference. 

The remaining critics who have commented on "Major Moli- 
neux" have evidently based their remarks almost entirely on their 
conscious reactions to the story's manifest level of meaning. At 
best, I believe, such criticism is of limited value; in connection 
with such a work as this it is sometimes actually misleading. Like 
some other stories by Hawthorne and by such writers as Melville, 
Kafka, Dostoevsky and Shakespeare, "My Kinsman, Major Moli- 
neux" is Janus-faced. It says one thing to the conscious mind and 
whispers something quite different to the unconscious. The second 
level of meaning is understood readily enough, immediately and 
intuitively. Our acceptance of Robin's behavior — which, as we 
shall see, is bizarre not only during his ultimate encounter with 
his kinsman but throughout the story — is only explicable, I be- 
lieve, on the assumption that we understand it without difficulty. 
To respond to the story, to find Robin's behavior not only "right" 
but satisfying, we must perceive a great many things nowhere ex- 
plicitly developed. These hidden implications are not meant to 
come to our attention as we read; they would arouse anxiety if 
they did. Even to get at them after one has read the story requires 
a deliberate exertion of will. There is still another difficulty. To 
deal with these implications at all systematically, one is almost 
compelled to make some use of depth psychology. This is a kind 
of knowledge most critics are curiously loathe to employ. 

As soon as we look at "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" more 
closely, we discover that it is only in part a story of baffled search: 
Robin is never so intent on finding his illustrious relative as he 
believes he is and as it appears. The story even tells us why this 
is so. To some extent we understand from the very beginning; the 
explanations offered serve basically to remind us of things we have 
experienced ourselves. 

As Robin walks into the town, it will be remembered, he realizes 
that he should have probably asked the ferryman how to get to 
the home of Major Molineux. Today we have scientific evidence 


for what Hawthorne, and we, understand intuitively, the signifi- 
cance of such forgetting. Earlier in the same paragraph we have 
been told something equally significant. Robin walks into the town 
"with as light a step as if his day's journey had not already ex- 
ceeded thirty miles, and with as eager an eye as if he were enter- 
ing London city, instead of the little metropolis of a New England 
colony." This though he has momentarily lost sight of the reason 
for his visit! As early as this we begin to suspect that the town 
attracts the youth for reasons which have nothing whatever to do 
with finding his influential relative. The intimation does not sur- 
prise us. Robin is eighteen. The ferryman has surmised that this 
is his first visit to town. In a general way we understand why his 
eye is "eager." 

Robin makes his first inquiry for his kinsman with reasonable 
alacrity. But a considerable time appears to elapse before his sec- 
ond inquiry, at the tavern, and he is evidently spurred to enter it 
as much by the odor of food, which reminds him of his own hun- 
ger, as by any zeal to find the Major. 

After his rebuff at the tavern it perhaps seems reasonable enough 
that Robin should drop his inquiries and simply walk through 
the streets looking for Major Molineux. If our critical faculties 
were not already somewhat relaxed, however, it might occur to 
us at once that this is a singularly inefficient way of looking for 
anyone. And Robin does not pursue his impractical plan with any 
ardor. He stares at the young men he encounters with as much 
interest as at the old ones; though he notices the jaunty gait of 
others, he never increases his pace; and there are many pauses 
"to examine the gorgeous display of goods in the shop windows." 

Nor does his lack of success make him impatient. Only the ap- 
proach of the elderly gentleman he had first accosted causes him 
to abandon his plan and turn down a side street. He is now so 
tired and hungry that he considers demanding guidance from the 
first solitary passer-by he encounters. But while this resolution is, 
as Hawthorne puts it, "gaining strength," what he actually does is 
enter "a street of mean appearance, on either side of which a row 
of ill-built houses was straggling toward the harbor." It is of the 
utmost importance that Robin continues his "researches" on this 

The Image of the Father 233 

less respectable street, although no one is visible along its entire 
extent. If we were not by now so completely immersed in the 
concealed story which is unfolding itself, we might begin to wonder 
consciously whether Robin is seriously searching for his kinsman. 

The encounters with women which follow explain the attraction 
of the street. They show that unconsciously Robin is searching for 
sexual adventure. The strength of his desire is almost pathetically 
betrayed by his half-willingness to believe the cock-and-bull story 
of the pretty young "housekeeper." Here, if not before, we identify 
one of the specific forces which is inhibiting Robin in his search 
for his kinsman: he would like a greater measure of sexual freedom 
than it is reasonable to suppose he would enjoy in the home of a 
colonial official. 

The encounter with the watchman furnishes additional evidence 
of Robin's ambivalence. The youth could scarcely hope to find a 
better person of whom to ask directions. It is likely that he is also 
held back in this case by guilt about what he has just been doing, 
but the ease with which he has permitted himself to be diverted 
from his search is probably one of the sources of that guilt. 

After further wandering Robin finally detains the passer-by who 
tells him that the Major will pass that very spot within the hour. 
In talking with the kindly gentleman who joins him to await the 
arrival of the Major, Robin is unable to restrain himself from 
boasting of his shrewdness and grown-upness. These boasts help 
us to understand another of the forces which has been holding him 
back: he wants to succeed through his own efforts and his own 
merit. His departure from home has evidently caused him to 
dream of achieving economic as well as sexual independence. 
When at the end of the story the gentleman suggests that Robin 
may decide to stay in town and may prosper without the help of 
his kinsman, he is simply giving expression to the youth's unvoiced 
but readily discernible desire. 

The gentleman has an opportunity to observe how half-hearted 
Robin is about finding his kinsman. When the sounds of the ap- 
proaching procession become more clearly audible, the youth 
comes to the conclusion that some kind of "prodigious merry- 
making" is going forward and suggests that he and his new-found 


friend step around the corner, to a point where he thinks everyone 
is hastening, and partake of their share of the fun. He has to be 
reminded by his companion that he is searching for his kinsman, 
who is supposed to pass by the place where they now are in a 
very short time. With insight and artistry Hawthorne spreads the 
evidence of Robin's irresoluteness of purpose from the very be- 
ginning of the story to the moment of Major Molineux's appear- 
ance; but so subtle is the evidence, so smoothly does it fit into 
the surface flow of the narrative, that its significance never ob- 
trudes itself on our attention. 

By this point in the story, furthermore, we unconsciously under- 
stand Robin's vacillation more completely than I have been able 
to suggest. We see that, unbeknown to himself, the youth has good 
reasons for not wanting to find Major Molineux: when he finds 
him, he will have to resubmit to the kind of authority from which, 
temporarily at least, he has just escaped. At some deep level the 
Major appears anything but a potential benefactor; he symbolizes 
just those aspects of the father from which the youth so urgently 
desires to be free. As an elderly relative of the father and an au- 
thority figure, he may be confused with the father. In any case, 
however undeservedly, he has now become the target of all the 
hostile and rebellious feelings which were originally directed against 
the father. 

Hawthorne tells us these things, it is interesting to note, by 
means of just the kind of unconscious manifestations which twen- 
tieth-century psychology has found so significant. While Robin sits 
on the steps of the church, fighting his desire to sleep, he has a 
fantasy in which he imagines that his kinsman is already dead! 
And his very next thought is of his father's household. He won- 
ders how "that evening of ambiguity and weariness" has been 
spent at home, and has a second fantasy of such hallucinatory 
vividness that he wonders if he is "here or there." Nor is this an 
idle question. His father and Major Molineux are so inextricably 
linked in his mind that in a sense the drama in which he is in- 
volved is being played out "there" — at home — as well as in the 
town where bodily he happens to be. 

The climax of this drama, so puzzling to the conscious intellect, 

The Image of the Father 235 

is immediately comprehensible to that portion of the mind which 
has been following the hidden course of developments. It is com- 
prehensible although Hawthorne describes Robin's feelings, as is 
right, in vague terms. Robin never understands those feelings and 
the reader would find it disturbing if they were too plainly labeled. 

The feelings would probably never have secured open expres- 
sion except under circumstances as out of the ordinary as those 
the story describes. But now everything conspires not simply to 
permit but to encourage Robin to give in to tendencies which as 
we know he was finding it difficult to control. To everyone present 
Major Molineux is overtly what he is to the youth on some dark 
and secret level — a symbol of restraint and unwelcome authority. 
He is this even to the elderly gentleman, the watchman, the man 
by his side — people whose disapproval of the crowd's behavior 
might have had a powerful effect upon him. Without a voice be- 
ing raised in protest, the crowd is acting out the youth's repressed 
impulses and in effect urging him to act on them also. The joy 
the crowd takes in asserting its strength and the reappearance of 
the lady of the scarlet petticoat provide him with incentives for 
letting himself go. 

And so Robin makes common cause with the crowd. He laughs 
— he laughs louder than anyone else. So long as he himself did 
not know how he would act he had reason to fear the crowd, and 
the relief he feels at the easing of the immediate situation is one 
of the sources of his laughter. But his decision resolves still deeper 
and more vexing conflicts. The relief he feels that he can vent his 
hostility for his kinsman and abandon his search for him is the 
ultimate source of his "riotous mirth." It is fueled by energy which 
until then was being expended in repression and inner conflict. 

Although Hawthorne uses figurative language which may keep 
his meaning from being consciously noted, he is at pains to let us 
know that murderous hate underlies the merriment of the crowd of 
which Robin becomes a part. When the laughter momentarily dies 
down, the procession resumes its march. 

On they went, like fiends that throng in mockery around some 
dead potentate, mighty no more, but majestic still in his agony. 


On they went, in counterfeited pomp, in senseless uproar, in 
frenzied merriment, trampling all on an old man's heart. 

Symbolically and to some extent actually the crowd has carried 
out the fantasy Robin had on the steps of the church. 

To the conscious mind "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" is a 
story of an ambitious youth's thwarted search for an influential 
relative he wants to find. To the unconscious, it is a story of the 
youth's hostile and rebellious feelings for the relative — and for 
the father — and his wish to be free of adult domination. To the 
conscious mind it is a story of a search which was unsuccessful 
because of external difficulties. To the unconscious — like Hamlet, 
with which it has more than one point in common — it is a story 
of a young man caught up in an enterprise for which he has no 
stomach and debarred from succeeding in it by internal inhibitions. 

From one point of view the unacknowledged forces playing 
upon the apparently simple and candid central character of "My 
Kinsman, Major Molineux" are deeply abhorrent. Our sympathy 
for the character should tell us, however, that there is another side 
to the matter. The tendencies which assert themselves in Robin 
exist in all men. What he is doing, unwittingly but flamboyantly, 
is something which every young man does and must do, however 
gradually, prudently and inconspicuously: he is destroying an im- 
age of paternal authority so that, freed from its restraining influ- 
ence, he can begin life as an adult. 

"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" is one of a relatively small but 
distinguished group of stories which would be incomprehensible, 
in part or in their entirety, on the basis of what we understand 
consciously. In response to such stories it is evident that uncon- 
scious perception plays an indispensable role. Though it is less 
evident, I believe that the unconscious plays a role which is scarcely 
less important in response to many stories which are intelligible 
on some level to the conscious mind. For most, if not all fiction — 
and certainly the greatest fiction — has additional levels of meaning 

The Image of the Father 237 

which must be communicated unconsciously. In many cases far 
more is communicated unconsciously than consciously. Even when 
this is not the case, the meanings grasped below the threshold of 
awareness may make a disproportionate contribution to the pleas- 
ure we receive from reading fiction. 

It may be worth-while to analyze a story which is perfectly com- 
prehensible to the intellect but has many further levels of meaning. 
Let us glance, therefore, at Sherwood Anderson's story, "I Want 
to Know Why." It has many interesting points of similarity and 
contrast with "My Kinsman, Major Molineux." And as it happens, 
the story has been analyzed by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn 
Warren, so that once again we have a jumping-off point for our 
own explorations. 

I shall assume that my readers are familiar with the story, and 
simply remind them of its chief events. It is narrated in the first 
person by its fifteen-year-old hero, whose name we never learn. 
A boy from Beckersville, Kentucky, a small town evidently in the 
blue-grass region, he is "crazy about thoroughbred horses"; to 
him they epitomize everything which is "lovely and clean and full 
of spunk and honest." A lump comes into his throat when he sees 
potential winners run. He knows he could capitalize on this physi- 
cal reaction if he wanted to, but he has no desire to gamble; horses 
and racing represent something too important to him for that. 

With three friends of about his own age, the boy runs away 
to attend the races at Saratoga. Bildad, a Negro from the same 
town who works at the tracks, feeds the boys, shows them a place 
to sleep and keeps still about them, which the hero seems to 
appreciate most of all. 

The race the boys particularly want to see has two entries that 
give the hero a lump in his throat, and the night before it is run 
he is so excited he cannot sleep. He aches to watch the two horses 
run, but he dreads it too, for he hates to see either one beaten. 
The day of the race he goes to the paddocks to look at the horses. 
As soon as he sees one of them, Sunstreak, a nervous and beautiful 
stallion, who is "like a girl you think about sometimes but never 
see," the boy knows that it is his day. Watching, he experiences a 
mystical communion with the horse and the horse's trainer, a man 


named Jerry Tillford, also from Beckersville, who has befriended 
him many times. The experience is so central to understanding the 
story that it must be quoted at considerable length. 

I was standing looking at that horse and aching. In some way, 
I can't tell how, I knew just how Sunstreak felt inside. . . . That 
horse wasn't thinking about running. . . . He was just thinking 
about holding himself back 'til the time for the running came. . . . 
He wasn't bragging or letting on much or prancing or making a 
fuss, but just waiting. I knew it and Jerry Tillford his trainer 
knew. I looked up and then that man and I looked into each 
other's eyes. Something happened to me. I guess I loved the man 
as much as I did the horse because he knew what I knew. Seemed 
to me there wasn't anything in the world but that man and the 
horse and me. I cried and Jerry Tillford had a shine in his 
eyes. . . . 

Sunstreak does win the race and the other Beckersville entry, a 
gelding named Middlestride, finishes second. The hero of the story 
was so confident that it would work out this way that he is scarcely 
excited. All through the race he thinks about Jerry Tillford and 
of how happy he must be. "I liked him that afternoon even more 
than I ever liked my own father." Jerry, he knows, has worked 
with Sunstreak since the horse was a baby colt, and he imagines 
that while watching the race the trainer must feel "like a mother 
seeing her child do something brave or wonderful." 

That night the boy "cuts out" from his companions because he 
feels an impulse to be near Jerry. He walks along a road which 
leads to a "rummy-looking farmhouse" because he has seen "Jerry 
and some other men go that way in an automobile." He doesn't 
expect to find them, but shortly after he gets there an automobile 
arrives with Jerry and five other men, several of them from Beck- 
ersville and known to the boy. All of them except the father of 
one of the boys who has accompanied the hero to Saratoga, a 
gambler named Rieback who quarrels with the others, enter the 
farmhouse, which proves to be "a place for bad women to stay in." 

The boy telling the story creeps to a window and peers in. What 
he sees sickens and disgusts him. The women are mean-looking 
and, except for one who a little resembles the gelding Middlestride, 
"but [is] not clean like him" and has "a hard ugly mouth," they 

The Image of the Father 239 

are not even attractive. The place smells rotten, and the talk is 
rotten, "the kind a kid hears around a livery stable in a town like 
Beckersville in the winter but don't ever expect to hear talked 
when there are women around." 

Jerry Tillford boasts like a fool, taking credit for Sunstreak's 
qualities and the victory the horse has won that afternoon. Then 
the trainer looks at the woman who somewhat resembles Middle- 
stride and his eyes begin to shine as they had when he had looked 
at the teller of the story and Sunstreak that afternoon. As the man 
weaves toward the woman, the boy begins to hate him. "I wanted 
to scream and rush in the room and kill him ... I was so mad . . . 
that I cried and my fists were doubled up so my fingernails cut 
my hands." When the man kisses the woman, the boy creeps away 
and returns to the tracks. That night he sleeps little. He tells his 
companions nothing of what he has seen, but the next morning 
he persuades them to start for home. 

There he continues to live very much as before, but everything 
seems different. 

At the tracks the air don't taste as good or smell as good. It's 
because a man like Jerry Tillford, who knows what he does, 
could see a horse like Sunstreak run, and kiss a woman like that 
the same day. ... I keep thinking about it and it spoils looking at 
horses and smelling things and hearing niggers laugh and every- 
thing. Sometimes I'm so mad about it I want to fight someone. 
. . . What did he do it for? I want to know why. 

"I Want to Know Why" certainly means something to the con- 
scious intellect, and in Understanding Fiction Brooks and Warren 
give one interpretation of the story's manifest content to which I 
should not wish to offer more than one or two reservations. "I 
Want to Know Why," they declare, is an initiation story in which 
a boy "discovers something about the nature of evil, and tries to 
find some way of coming to terms with his discovery." 

The boy knows that evil exists in the world. According to Brooks 


and Warren, what causes him to feel so much horror and disgust 
at Saratoga is the realization — pointed up by the parallelism of the 
scene at the paddocks and the scene at the rummy-looking farm- 
house — that good and evil may be so closely linked, that they may 
co-exist in the same person. He discovers too that virtue is a hu- 
man, not an animal, quality. Unlike the horse, with which in other 
respects human beings are frequently compared, man has the ca- 
pacity for choice. When he elects the bad, he is worse than the 

It seems to me that the phrase "who knows what he does," on 
which Brooks and Warren base the last-mentioned observation, 
refers less to specific problems involving choice than to the willing- 
ness of a creature like man to come to terms with his predilection 
for evil. Nor can I assent to the claim that the boy discovers, at 
the climax of the story, that good and evil are closely joined. What 
he knows about Henry Rieback's father has already taught him 
that, if nothing else has. These are trifling qualifications, however. 
My real question is whether the interpretation offered by Brooks 
and Warren goes far to explain the impact of the story, even 
assuming the correctness of everything they say. They themselves 
seem a little uneasy on this score, for they write: 

. . . having extracted what may seem to be a moral "message," 
one should remind oneself that the "message" is, as such, not the 
story. The story may be said to be the dramatization of the dis- 
covery. Now the message is something of which everyone is 
aware; it is a platitude. But the platitude ceases to be a platitude, 
it is revitalized and becomes meaningful again, when it is shown 
to be operating in terms of experience. 

Here, again, there is little to which one can take exception. A 
very ordinary idea or event can be "revitalized" if dramatized suc- 
cessfully, and the fact that what we learn about Jerry Tillford is 
dramatized helps to account for its impact upon the boy at the 
farmhouse window and the reader looking over his shoulder. Even 
when dramatized, however, the knowledge that an adult is capable 
of good and evil is unlikely to have the powerful effect it has upon 
narrator and reader unless it has some special significance. Some- 
thing about the nature of the narrator's relationship and experi- 

The Image of the Father 241 

ence with Jerry Tillford has eluded Brooks' and Warren's analysis. 
It has eluded it, I believe, in part because they are so preoccupied 
with the moral values of the story that they have not asked the 
most important questions which must be answered if we are to 
account for the story's appeal. 

A central question, as I have indicated, is why the climactic 
scene can arouse such pain, disgust and bitter disillusionment in 
the boy who tells the story. His discovery of the underside of Jerry 
Tillford evidently frustrates some yearning he can scarcely bear to 
renounce. Once we have gone this far, it is not too difficult to 
identify this yearning: it is for an ideal relationship with a man 
who is like his father but better than his father — less fallible, more 
sympathetic with the boy's interests and, what is at first glance a 
curious requirement, devoid of sexuality. His disappointment is the 
keener because, on the very afternoon of the experience at the 
farmhouse, the consummation of his desire seemed within reach — 
for an ecstatic moment had actually been achieved. 

That the unnamed narrator of "I Want to Know Why" wanted 
to adopt Jerry Tillford as a kind of second father could not be 
more clear. Indeed, it could be maintained that the boy's feelings 
are sometimes too baldly revealed. They could be inferred from 
the few things he says about his father and various incidental re- 
marks about the trainer. His father is "all right," and evidently 
extremely permissive but he doesn't make much money and so 
can't buy his son things. The boy says he doesn't care — he's too 
old for that — but since he has just listed the kind of presents 
Henry Rieback is always getting from his father we doubt his 
statement. At a deeper level, we sense, the boy is disappointed 
because his father does not satisfy an immaterial need: he evi- 
dently does not share his son's interest in thoroughbreds and rac- 
ing. Jerry Tillford, of course, is not only interested in these subjects 
but an authority upon them, and his job puts him in a position to 
befriend the boy in terms of his interests. He has let the boy walk 
right into the stalls to examine horses, and so on. These favors 
may have made the boy think of Jerry Tillford as a kind of father. 
In any case, the language the boy uses to describe the trainer's 
treatment of Sunstreak shows that he attributes parental kindliness 


to him. ("I knew he had been watching and working with Sun- 
streak since the horse was a baby colt ... I knew that for him 
it was like a mother seeing her child do something brave or 

The various hints given us about the narrator's feelings for Jerry 
Tillford are confirmed by two explicit statements. The boy de- 
clares, it will be remembered, that on the afternoon of the race 
he liked the trainer even more than he ever liked his own father. 
He is equally frank about the feelings which prompted him to 
"ditch" his companions the night of the race in order to be near 
the trainer. "I was just lonesome to see Jerry, like wanting to see 
your father at night when you are a young kid." 

What may require further explanation — although unconsciously 
we understand it very well — is why the boy's feelings are of such 
extraordinary strength and take the particular form they do. In 
part his hero worship of Jerry Tillford is a not uncommon out- 
come of an interrelated cluster of reactions to the parents which 
arise in children of both sexes during latency and early adoles- 
cence. The fuller knowledge of reality children acquire at this stage 
of their development and the resentment they feel for rebuffs, 
imaginary or real, may cause them to become acutely aware of their 
parents' circumstances and limitations. Though they continue to 
love their parents, consciously or unconsciously they are likely to 
feel dissatisfied with them or even ashamed of them. Frequently 
these feelings cause children to replace their parents in fantasy — 
to imagine that their actual parents are mere pretenders to that 
honor and that their "real" parents are personages who are power- 
ful, famous or wealthy, or the possessors of some other desired 
attribute. The children's disaffection may also impel them to estab- 
lish relationships with adults who can easily be recognized as 
idealized replacements of one or the other parent. 

In boys these feelings are powerfully reinforced by the changes 
which occur at puberty. The sudden upsurge of sexuality may re- 
activate the long-dormant Oedipus tendencies, jeopardizing and in 
some cases at least temporarily upsetting the still far from stable 
identification with the father. The wish to protect this identification 
against the reawakened competitiveness which threatens it is re- 

The Image of the Father 243 

sponsible for a curious secondary development — an attempt to 
deny the sexuality of the father and, by an inevitable chain of 
association, of the mother also. Misguided as such an attempt may 
appear, it has its own logic. Seen as a sexual being enjoying the 
favors of the mother, the father again becomes a person who 
arouses envy, hatred and fear. The knowledge of the sexual rela- 
tions of the parents is inherently painful and, as Freud has ex- 
plained, is usually conveyed to the child in a way which tends to 
belittle both his parents and himself. For this reason, too, the 
information is usually resisted. 

The secret of sexual life is revealed to [the growing boy] in 
coarse language, undisguisedly derogatory and hostile in intent, 
and the effect is to destroy the authority of adults, which is irre- 
concilable with these revelations about their sexual activities. The 
greatest impression on the child who is being initiated is made by 
the relation the information bears to his own parents, which is 
often instantly repudiated in some such words as these: "It may 
be true that your father and mother and other people do such 
things, but it is quite impossible that mine do." ("A Special Type 
of Choice of Object Made by Men.") 

Now we are in a better position to approach the two contrasted 
scenes which do so much to make "I Want to Know Why" a com- 
pelling story. The scene at the paddocks depicts a fervently desired 
communion with an idealized and desexualized father, a father 
toward whom one need have no feelings of competitiveness and 
hostility. Moreover, it recalls just such a situation of innocence — 
it recalls the pre-Oedipal situation in which the feeling of father 
and son for the mother was a bond between them instead of the 
focus of rivalry, and father, mother and child were united in love. 
In this scene Sunstreak becomes the mother, and the boy and Jerry 
Tillford are brought together by their admiration and love for the 
stallion. (Sunstreak reminds the boy, it will be recalled, of "a 
girl you think about sometimes but never see.") 

The scene at the rummy-looking farmhouse undoes the scene 
at the paddocks. Jerry's bragging, which is at the expense of Sun- 
streak, reveals that he has no real love for the stallion, and thus 
shows the boy that there was actually no foundation for the ex- 


perience he thought he had had that afternoon. Because the boy 
identifies with the stallion, the trainer's boasts are also a blow to 
his self-esteem. Finally, the boasts show how unfit the trainer is 
to be the kind of parent the boy had desired. 

The disclosure of Jerry's sexuality wounds the boy still more 
deeply. Even more than his bragging, it disqualifies the trainer for 
the kind of relationship the boy had desired — a relationship which 
would be washed of all competitiveness and enmity. It is the source 
of a more encompassing disillusionment. It forces on the boy the 
unwelcome knowledge that this is a sexual, sinful world, in which 
he can nowhere hope to find the kind of communion he has sought 
or the perfection he once attributed to the parents and later hoped 
to find incarnated in others. The trainer's behavior, his very pres- 
ence at the whorehouse, is also a particularly brutal and painful 
reminder of the sexuality of the parents — not only of the father, 
with whom Tillford is immediately associated, but of the mother 
as well. She is present in this scene also. She is the woman the 
trainer desires, the one, somewhat more attractive than the others, 
who resembles the gelding Middlestride. She is debased to a prosti- 
tute, a devaluation which almost always suggests itself — though of 
course it may be instantly repudiated — when an adolescent boy is 
compelled to take cognizance of the sexual relations of the parents. 
Freud describes the chain of reasoning in the same essay from 
which I have just quoted: 

Along with this piece of "sexual enlightenment" there seldom 
fails to go, as a corollary, a further one about the existence of 
certain women who practice sexual intercourse as a means of 
livelihood and are universally despised in consequence. To the 
boy himself this contempt is necessarily quite foreign; as soon as 
he realizes that he too can be initiated by these unfortunates into 
that sexual life which he has hitherto regarded as the exclusive 
prerogative of '"grown-ups," his feeling for them is only a mixture 
of longing and shuddering. Then, when he cannot any longer 
maintain the doubt that claims exception for his own parents 
from the ugly sexual behavior of the rest of the world, he says to 
himself with cynical logic that the difference between his mother 
and a whore is after all not so very great, since at bottom they 
both do the same thing. 

The Image of the Father 245 

On one level Jerry Tillford's behavior is wounding because it 
punctures an attempt to idealize him, to deny his sexuality and the 
parents'. On still another level it is wounding because it has 
the character of a sexual rejection and betrayal. To some extent the 
boy's feelings are those of an outraged lover. Logically the two 
sets of reactions are incompatible with one another, but here, as 
is frequently the case, fiction is speaking to a part of the psyche 
not concerned with logic, a part which can simultaneously accom- 
modate divergent and even contradictory feelings. 

The scene at the farmhouse gains additional poignance by stir- 
ring feelings originally experienced at different periods of time. 
Like the scene at the paddocks, it recalls an earlier situation 
heavily charged with emotion: it condenses the infantile and the 
adolescent discoveries of sexuality. On the immediate, realistic 
level the scene depicts something which befalls a fifteen-year-old 
boy, but in every essential respect it duplicates the "primal scene," 
the original investigation of the parents' sexual relations. The look- 
ing, the secrecy, the mixture of fascination and horror, the am- 
bivalence about whether one will "find anything," the feeling of 
being alone and betrayed when one does find what underneath 
one did expect — all the characteristics of the prototype experience 
are echoed here. 

Although only the unconscious is likely to perceive it, in the 
last analysis both "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" and "I Want 
to Know Why" are stories of a boy's relationship with his father. 
Both describe more or less universal phases of the process of 
growing up, although, as in great fiction generally, the actual events 
are so altered that they may not be consciously recognizable, and 
so telescoped and heightened that they arouse even profounder 
affects than the less dramatic and more gradual experiences they 
draw upon and evoke. "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" concen- 
trates on the young man's rebellious and hostile feelings toward 
an authoritative image of the father — an image which must be 
destroyed in the course of achieving independent adulthood. "I 
Want to Know Why" describes the frustration of two dear but 
unfulfillable wishes of the adolescent boy. The first wish is to deny 


the sexuality of the parents in order to avoid competition with the 
father. This wish is incompatible with what one inevitably learns 
in growing up and on some deep level already knows. The second 
wish is for a love relationship with the father which, though ideal- 
ized in some respects, is still so heavily cathected with libido that 
its satisfaction would involve both continued dependence upon 
the father and a proprietary right to his affection. 

Although both stories refer ultimately to emotions felt by sons 
for their fathers, it is interesting that in each case the feelings are 
displaced onto surrogates. In "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" the 
advantage of the alteration is evident: it facilitates the expression 
of hostility. "I Want to Know Why" is probably both more realistic 
and more moving because the immediate object of the hero's feel- 
ings is just such a man as Jerry Tillford. By the time a boy is 
fifteen the feelings of affection for the actual father are usually too 
admixed with other elements, the disillusionment too advanced, to 
permit the sharp contrasts of hopes raised and abruptly deflated 
upon which the structure and impact of the story depend. 

Nathan Leites 

The Stranger 

Albert Camus' The Stranger x is one of the most 
prominent post-1939 French novels, and one which has been 
widely regarded as conveying a new "philosophical" message. 
This paper is not concerned with the connections between the 
novel and the philosophical writings of the author (in particular 
Le my the de Sisyphe, 1942). It attempts to trace relationships 
between the novel and certain trends in the temper of the age. In 
doing so, it offers a psychological interpretation of the content of 
the novel 2 and confronts this interpretation with those of a sample 
of American critics. 

The outline of the plot is as follows: Meursault, a small French 
clerk in Algiers, receives news of his mother's death; he attends 
her funeral; he begins an affair and becomes engaged; he kills, 
under a blazing sun, without any adequate conscious motivation 
the brother of an Arab prostitute whose pimp he vaguely knows; 
he is condemned to death and will presently be executed. He is 
the narrator. 

Three attitudes may be taken toward the hero. First, that he is 
the incarnation of a metaphysical affirmation which is known to 



be held by the author. Thus Justin O'Brien (New York Herald 
Tribune, April 14, 1946) quotes a passage from Camus' Le my the 
de Sisyphe ("The world that can be explained . . . even with 
false reasons is a familiar world. But in a universe . . . deprived 
of illusions and enlightenment, man feels himself a stranger. . . . 
This divorce between man and his life . . . is . . . the feeling of 
absurdity"), and says, "Here is the key to the novel. Meursault, 
the unintentional murderer, enacts a parable of man's fate. Since 
there is . . . free will, he must have been free to kill or not to kill. 
But he cannot see it that way; if there was no other coercion, there 
was that of the dazzling sun." 

Second, the hero may be considered unintelligible^ Thus Ed- 
mund Wilson {The New Yorker, April 13, 1946) says about the 
hero that "as a human being he seems to me incredible; his be- 
havior is never explained or made plausible. . . . The queer state 
of mind of the protagonist . . . [is] never accounted for." 

Critics have tended to take one, or both, of these positions. A 
third^ position, which shall be set forth here, is that Meursault's 
behavior is largely intelligible. . . . 

The novel contains only few explicit indications — almost entirely 
overlooked even by the sophisticated critics-r-about the hero's past. 
But these few are quite significant. As to his father, "I never set 
eyes on him" (p. 138). As to his mother, "For years she'd never 
had a word to say to me and I could see she was moping with no 
one to talk to" (p. 58) ; ". . . neither Mother nor I expected much 
of one another (n'attendions plus rien Vun de V autre)" (p. 109). 
"As a student I'd had plenty of ambition. . . . But when I had to 
drop my studies, I very soon realized all that was pretty futile 
(sans importance reelle)" (p. 52). The child and the adolescent 
are thus shown as reacting with withdrawal of conscious affect in 
intrapersonal relations (that is, the relations between the various 
components of the self) and in interpersonal relations. He is thus 
reacting to the guilty rage induced by the severe deprivations which 
were imposed by an absent father, an indifferent mother, and a 
withholding wider environment. 

It is this characteristic defense which the hero perpetuates and 
elaborates in his adult life, and which gives his personality — con- 

The Stranger 249 

veyed in a style appropriate to this dominant trait — its particular 
aura. I shall now discuss the variou s major manifestations of the _ 
hero's affectlessness^ 

Firstly, and most obviously, the hero is usually rather clearly 
aware of the absence or weakness of affects in response to intra- 
personal and interpersonal stimuli. 3 "I could truthfully say I'd 
been quite fond of (j'aimais bien) mother — but really that didn't 
mean much (cela ne voulait rien dire)" (p. 80). His affects appear 
to him as questionable rather than as inevitable and valid; "I came 
to feel that this aversion [against talking about certain things — 
N.L.] had no real substance {je n'ai plus trouve d'importance a 
ces repugnances)" (p. 89). He is much aware of the almost total 
dependence of his affective on his somatic state (cf. p. 80) — con- 
forming though in extreme fashion to what is probably a contem- 
porary trend. 

.While the hero is acutely aware of his a typ icality as a "jjtranr 
ger" . t o the world, h e spont aneoustgs ubsumes most of his few 
near-affective experiences in interpersonal relations under general 
categories. When his lawyer asks him whether he had loved his 
mother, he replies "yes, like everybody else" (p. 83). When his girl 
friend asks him "Suppose another girl had asked you to marry her 
— I mean a girl you liked in the same way as you like me — would 
you have said 'Yes' to her too?" the hero does not find such a 
hypothesis inconceivable and his emotions toward Marie unique. 
He answers, apparently effortlessly: "Naturally" (p. 53). In this, 
he presumably manifests a widely diffused trend in the quality of 
Western "love" experiences in this century. 

It may be surmised that such "generalizing" procedures are in 
part a defense against the unconscious threat of overwhelming 
affect. When "the "herb learns of his mother's death, he arranges 
for keeping "the usual vigil" (p. 1) beside the body. The owner 
of his habitual restaurant affirms "there's no one like a mother" 
(p. 2) and lends him a black tie and mourning band procured for 
the occasion of an uncle's death. 

The hero shows a high degree of detachment toward decisive 
impacts of his environment on him. During most of his trial he feels 
as if somebody else is about to be condemned to death. ". . . He 


["one of my policemen" — NX.] asked me if I was feeling nervous. 
I said: No, and that the prospect of witnessing a trial rather inter- 
ested me" (p. 103). When danger mounts, "the futility of what 
was happening (tout ce que je faisais d 'inutile en ce lieu) seemed 
to take me by the throat" (p. 132). 

All value judgments have ceased to be self-evident, as they have 
in some variants of contemporary empiricist epistemology. There is 
a tabula rasa where the traditional ethical postulates stood. But the 
hero attains at the end a state of exaltation in contemplating the 
certain facts of his present aliveness and impending annihilation: 
"It might look as if my hands were empty. Actually, I was sure of 
myself, sure about everything, far surer than he [the prison chap- 
lain — N.L.]: sure of my present life and of the death that was 
coming. That, no doubt, was all I had; but at least that certainty 
was something I could get my teeth into — just as it had got its 
teeth into me (je tenais cette verite autant qu'elle me tenait)" 
(p. 151). The cathexis withdrawn from norms is in part displaced 
to very general aspects of facts. 

Choices made, then, appear as quite inevitable and correct (for 
they have been made) and as quite arbitrary (for they were 
choices). In his final exaltation the hero comes to feel that "I'd 
been right, I was still right, I was always right. I'd passed my life 
in a certain way and I might have passed it in a different way. . . . 
I'd acted thus and I hadn't acted otherwise. . . . And what did that 
mean? That, all the time, I had been waiting for this present mo- 
ment, for that dawn [of execution — N.L.] . . . which was to justify 
me" (pp. 151, 152). 

The hero abstains from morally reacting to others as much as 
to himself (cf. pp. 34, 45). His incapacity for moral indignation is 
again related to certain contemporary trends. 

What are the behavioral counterparts to the hero's vabieless- 
ness ? His tendency is to minimize overt action, symbolic as well 
as motor. He tends to react with silence to communications of 
others, perpetuating the wordlessness of his relations with his 
mother. He shows ? preference for the his personal 
status quo, at any gi ven rnnment and with reference to his overall 
mode of life. When an evening conversation imposed on him is 

The Stranger 251 

prolonged, he feels that "I wanted to be in bed, only it was such an 
effort making a move" (p. 4 1 X» When his employer offers h im a 
Pa ris job, "I saw no reason for 'chan ging my life' " (p. 52)TGet- 
ting out of bed requires an intense effort. 

Whenever he contemplates alternative courses of ac tion, he. he- 
comes convinced that they j ead to an identical result Thus not hing 
is a "serious matter (une chose grave)" (p. 53). When his boss 

nffprgjrrm_ a Parjs job, "really T didn't rare, mnr.h nnp. way or the 
other (dans le iond ce ln wLhwt pv a W" fp 52) When he is present 
at a tense underworld encounter which may instantly develop into 
shooting, "it crossed my mind that one might fire or not fire — and 
it would come to absolutely the same thing {tout cela se valait)" 
~ (P. 172 ). . . 

Correspondingly, the hero tends to feel a situation as invariant 
which according to the judgment of non-"strangers" has varied 
radically. When his boss, offering him a Paris job, stresses the 
advantages of a "change of life," "I answered that one never 
changed his way of life" (p. 52). 

"Xh e_same thing" to which all conceivab l e courses of act ion lead 
is a negative thing . When the hero accompanies the coffiri~oTTi is 
mother to the cemetery in the Algerian heat, he isj old: "IfLxou 
go too slowly there's the risk of a heat stroke. Butjfjyou go joo 
fast, you perspire and the cold air in the church gives you a chill" 
( p. 21). He adds: "I saw . . . [the] point: e ither way one was in 
fnr if (jl n'y nvnit pax d'issue_ )" (p. 21) . There is no conceivabl e 
i nterme diate optim al point between too much and too little. Simi- 
lariy— ancT again with the heat in the role of the great depriver — 
at a certain point during the morning which ends with the crime, 
the hero stands before a house he is expected to enter: "... I 
couldn't face the effort needed to go up the steps and make myself 
amiable to the women. But the heat was so great that it was just as 
bad staying where I was. ... To stay or to make a move — it came 
to much the same (cela revenait au meme). After a moment I re- 
turned to the beach" (p. 73) — a move which leads to the murder. 
"One is cooked both ways" because death is the terminal state 
of any sequence of acts — which is therefore equivalent to any other 
sequence. "I^othing^ j a othing had the lcaat -iffl-porta nce, and I knew 


quite well why. . . . From the dark horizon of my future a sort of 
slow, persistent breeze had been blowing towards me, all my life 
long, from the years that were to come. And on its way that breeze 
S had leveled out {egalisait) all the ideas that people tried to foist 
on me. . . . What difference could . . . [it] make ... the way a 
man decides to live, the fate ... he chooses, since one and the 
same fate was bound to 'choose' not only me but thousands of mil- 
lions of privileged people. . . . Every man alive was privileged; there 
was only one class of men, the privileged class. And all alike would 
be condemned to die one day. . . . And what difference could it 
make if ... he [the prison chaplain instead of the hero — N.L.] 
were executed . . . since it all came to the same thing in the end?" 
(p. 152} . This indifferentism with the horizon of death acts mani- 
fesTly as a defense against distress. Despairing of his girl friend's 
faithfulness, the hero asks in the context of the passage just quoted: 
"What did it matter if at this very moment Marie was kissing a new 
boy friend?" (p. 153). The fatherless and motherless (in more 
than one sense) murderer asks: "What difference could they make 
to me, the deaths of others, or a mother's love or . . . God?" 
(p. 152). Awaiting execution and faintly hoping for the success 
of his appeal, the hero attempts with conscious and only partly 
successful effort to make himself see that "it makes little difference 
whether one dies at the age of thirty or three score and ten. . . . 
Whether I die now or forty years hence, this business of dying had 
to be got through, inevitably" (pp. 142-43). 

Presumably the belief in death as annihilation has been, and is, 
spreading and deepening in Western culture. Reactions to this 
major trend seem to be (as one would expect) polarized. On the 
one hand there is an increasing tendency to "scotomize" death, i.e. 
to minimize its role in conscious awareness. On the other hand, 
a breakthrough of this awareness may dominate the consciousness 
of the individual in a somewhat new fashion: The massive fact of 
death may appear as establishing the pointlessness of life beyond 
any possibility of mitigation. The tabula rasa as to previous con- 
ceptions of Good and Evil may thus be accompanied by a tabula 
rasa as to previous conceptions of the Meaningful Life. 

But the residual certainty of the very fact of life which is accen- 

The Stranger 253 

tuated when valuelessness has been established may become the 
new meaning-creating factor: If death is annihila tion , life — all we 
have — is infinitely precious J^a resurgence of the carpe diem theme 
in "highbrow" speculation which has often accompanied the break- 
down of civilizations). This is the metaphysical and axiological 
aspect of the passage on "certainty" quoted above. The sentence 
quoted "every man ali ve wa s privileged" may thus become one 
denying or affirming the meaningfulness of life according to 
whether the temporariness or the availability of the "privilege" is 
stressed. If the positive accent is chosen, the desired though un- 
obtainable "life after the grave" appears as "a life in which I can 
remember this life on earth. That's all I want of it!" (p. 150). The 
hero attempts to get rid of the intruding prison chaplain as "I'd 
very little time left and I wasn't going to waste it on God" (p. 150) . 
But there is a price to this reversal: The affects which the negative 
view intended to ward off by the depreciation of life reappear. The 
hero awaiting the coming of the executioners every dawn knows 
every morning that "I might just as well have heard footsteps and 
felt my heart shattered into bits" (p. 152). On the other hand in- 
termittent fantasies of survival give him the task "to calm down 
that sudden rush of joy racing through my body and even bring- 
ing tears to my eyes" (p. 143). Thus belief in the meaninglessness 
of life appears in the hero related to the successful repression of 
affect, and belief in its meaningfulness to the return of the re- 
pressed from repression. 

What typical conscious motivations remain available to the 
hero in his predominant negative phases? The hero tends to choos e 
a certain action "for want of anvthine better to do" oFaiT"! h ad 
nothing to do" or "as _aja,fit resource" n gainst the unspecified d is- 
pleasure of more complete inaction. He tends to comply with de- 
mands made on him in a "why not?" fashion. When his pimp 
acquaintance asks him for a favor "I wrote the letter [requested — 
N.L.] ... I wanted to satisfy Raymond as I'd no reason not to 
satisfy him" (p. 41). When the pimp thereupon says "so now we 
are pals, ain't we? (tu es un vrai copain), I kept silence and he 
said it again. I didn't care one way or the other, but he seemed 
so set on it, I nodded and said 'yes' " (p. 41 ) . When his boss offers 


him a Paris job, "I told him I was quite prepared to go; but really 
I didn't care much one way or the other" (p. 52). When his girl 
friend asks him if he would marry her, "I said I didn't mind; if 
she was keen on it, we'd get married." When she objects to this 
reaction, "I pointed out that ... the suggestion came from her; as 
for me, I'd merely said 'yes' " (p. 53). 

Presumably the predominance of such "negative motivat ions',' is 
overdetermined. Affectlessness is he re not only a defense against 
the v ario us f antasied dangers of involvement but also an instrumen t 
of ag gression against (and contempt for) those persons who ex- 
pect a fuller response from the hero. JT he^ aggression proceeds by 
spiteful obedience: Demands are complied with in the letter but 
not m the spirit. 

A major "positive" motivation of the hero is sleep, functioning 
as defense against the overwhelming impact of dangerous stimuli. 
It makes him feel good to look forward to sleep in a short while. 
At a certain "evening hour ... I always felt so well content with 
life (je me sentais content). Then, what awaited me was a night 
of easy dreamless sleep" (p. 13). "I can remember . . . my little 
thrill of pleasure when we entered the first brightly lit streets of 
Algiers [returning from his mother's funeral — N.L.] and I pictured 
myself going straight to bed and sleeping twelve hours at a stretch" 
(p. 22). 

Where other psychic structures would react with intense affect, 
the hero tends to react with fatigue and somnolence — which he 
often attributes to the external physical rather than to an internal 
psychic "heat" (cf. pp. 2, 132-33). 

To the high tendency toward sleep corresponds the vagueness 
and poverty of internal and external psychic perceptions during 
the hero's waking hours (as implied in footnote 3, his perception 
of nonhuman aspects of his environment was rich and acute). 
Low awareness of self is shown in extreme fashion when the 
hero after a long time in prison suddenly "heard something that 
I hadn't heard for months. It was the sound of a voice; my own 
voice, there was no mistaking it. And I recognized it as the voice 
that for many a day of late had been sounding in my ears. So I 
know that all this time I'd been talking to myself" (p. 101). Simi- 

The Stranger 255 

larly, the hero at important occasions — where, again, he is apt, 
projectively, to hold the heat of the day responsible — fails to hear 
or to understand correctly what others are saying to him or about 
him. When his lawyer pleads for him in court, "I found that my 
mind had gone blurred; everything was dissolving with a grayish, 
watery haze {tout devenait comme une eau incolore ou je trouvais 
le vertige)" (p. 312). 

More particularly, the hero — jtaj/ mgjmterfered so s everely with 
Jj is own affects— isjiighlyinhibite d in the per c epUQiiQf^aff eels of 
others, especially of those having himself as their target This lack 
of empathy facilitates the unconsciously aggressive and self-puni- 
tive candidness of the hero, which will be discussed below, and 
which the critics take at its face value as uncompromising honesty. 
The same trait also induces a poverty of the prognostic horizon. 
After the hero has witnessed an altercation between the pimp and 
a policeman, the pimp tells him "he'd like to know if I'd expected 
him to return the blow when the policeman hit him. I told him 
I hadn't expected anything whatsoever (je n'attendais rien du 
tout)" (p. 47). 

Affects of others, if perceived, appear "embarrassing" (cf. p. 
88). Explicit or implicit demands of others to express empathy 
(and sympathy) by words responding to their words, or to express 
other nuances of affect, tend to elicit a "/ have nothing to say" 
reaction. fSfren the hero's girl friend answers his indifferent mar- 
riage consent by declaring that she "loves" him because he's a 
"queer fellow," but that she might "hate" him someday, the hero 
reports: "to which I had nothing to say, so I said nothing" (p. 53). 
When the magistrate asks the hero about his "reputation of being 
a taciturn, rather self-centered person" (p. 82), the hero answered: 
"Well, I rarely have anything much to say. So naturally I keep my 
mouth shut." His habitual silence is thus not based on conscious 
restraint against verbalizing a rich subjectivity, as one recognizes 
the limitations of words and values privacy. It is a silence express^ 
ing su bjective void./ Only in rare and fugitive~instances"does this 
void appear as a disguise of plenitude. At one moment during his 
trial the hero feels like "cutting them all short and saying: '. . . 


I've something really important to tell you.' However, on second 
thought, I found I had nothing to say" (p. 124). 

In many instances the hero has nothing to say because he experi- 
ences what others say as meaningless. (One may recall the central 
importance, in contemporary empiricist epistemology, of the desig- 
nation of certain types of sentences as "meaningless" — and hence 
neither "true" nor "false" — which had been regarded as "meaning- 
ful" before.) This is particularly the case when others talk about 
the hero's subjective experiences. When the examining magistrate, 
using an "intimate" technique, tells the hero "what really inter- 
ests me is — you!" (p. 82), "I wasn't quite clear what he meant, 
so I made no comment" (p. 82). When his lawyer asks him 
whether he had felt grief when his mother died, "I answered that 
of recent years I'd rather lost the habit of noting my feelings 
(m'interroger) and hardly knew what to answer" (p. 80). When 
Marie "asked me if I loved her, I said that sort of question had no 
meaning really (cela ne voulait rien dire), but I supposed I didn't" 
(p. 44). When Marie asks again sometime later, "I replied much 
as before that her question meant nothing or next to nothing {cela 
ne signifiait rien) — but I supposed I didn't" (p. 52). His sen- 
tences on one's own affects appear either as meaningless or as 
difficult to test — but never as evidently true or false, a quality 
which earlier epistemology usually attributed to introspective state- 

The syndrome of affectlessness which I have sketched in the 
preceding passages is a largely ego-syntonic one. The hero does not 
share in the historically typical despair about, and revolt against, 
psychic impotence — a change which is probably, again, related to 
contemporary trends. When his boss offers him a Paris job, the 
hero declares that "my present . . . [life] suited me quite well. . . . 
I saw no reason for 'changing my life.' By and large it wasn't an 
unpleasant one" (p. 52). While he is incapable of "explaininj£_his 
subjective state, it isn't a problem for him either. Affectlessness is 
reacted to affectlessly. 

Such is the syndrome which dominates the usual life atmosphere 
of the hero. But besides the affect inhibitions hitherto described 
the hero shows a set of affect substitutes. Some of them are somatic. 

The Stranger 257 

When the hero leaves a consciously entirely flat conversation with 
the pimp, "I could hear nothing but the blood throbbing in my 
ears and for a while I stood still, listening to it" (p. 42). Other 
affect substitutes are nonsomatic. Certain perceptions of detail, 
closely associated with the central matters to which the hero does 
not react consciously, show a high intensity and at the same time 
unreality. When he is holding a wake at the coffin of his mother 
without any conscious grief, ten of her friends are with him: 
"Never in my life had I seen anyone so clearly as I saw these 
people. . . . And yet ... it was hard to believe they really existed" 
(p. 10). At the funeral itself he perceives in a father figure — the 
"boy friend" of his mother in the home for the aged — the somatic 
image of his affect inhibition: "His eyes were streaming with tears. 
. . . But because of the wrinkles [in his face — N.L.] they couldn't 
flow down. They spread out, crisscrossed and formed a smooth 
gloss on the old, worn face" (pp. 21-22). The hero is bored by 
the prosecutor's speech at his trial: "The only things that really 
caught my attention were occasional phrases, his gestures, and 
some elaborate tirades — but these were isolated patches" (p. 
124). 4 

Related to such affect substitutes is doubt about deta ils closely 
associated with central matters. The novel begins with a doubt 
about a detail of the mother's affectlessly experienced death — 
reminiscent of Leonardo's slip (cf. Freud, Vol. VIII, pp. 190-91) 
in his diary notation of his father's death: "Mother died today. 
Or, maybe, yesterday. I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home 
says: your mother passed away, funeral tomorrow, deep 
sympathy. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been 
yesterday" (p. 1). . . . 

I have up to now discussed the hero's defenses against affect. 
What are the particular affects which have been repressed, and 
whose repression is secured by the defenses described? Jjshall. sug- 
gest that a major affect involved is murderous rage ^originally 
directed against the deprivingjDarents^ 

Most of the evidence for this hypothesis has been neglected by 
the critics, who have thus not conveyed a full picture of the hero's 
manifest syndrome. When Edmund Wilson {The New Yorker, 


April 13, 1946) considers the possibility of latent destructive 
tendencies of the hero, he rejects it as incompatible with his affect- 
lessness: "At the moments when he [Meursault] has to decide 
whether to act in some definite way, he always thinks to himself, 
'After all, it will make no difference whether I do or do not do 
this!' But the fact is that in spite of his supposed indifference, he 
does decide one way and not the other. He agrees to write the 
letter for the pimp [to an unfaithful prostitute on whom the pimp 
wants to avenge himself — N.L.], thus abetting him in an act of 
malevolence; therefore, he was either not indifferent to the interests 
of his acquaintance or not indifferent to the pimp's purpose of do- 
ing something mean to the girl. And since his killing of the Arab 
is deliberate ... he is, again, either not indifferent to the welfare 
of the pimp [whose enemy the Arab, the brother of the unfaithful 
prostitute, is — N.L.] or not indifferent to killing an Arab. . . . 
These acts of his which are inconsistent with the assumption that 
he is genuinely indifferent are never accounted for." However, 
conscious indifference and intense unconscious destructiveness are 
not only a possible but even a typical combination. 
.JThe^hero presumably experiences intense guilt about the death 
of his mother, toward whom he has felt conscious, though con- 
sciously feeble, death wishes (pp. 14, 80). In accordance with 
his overall techniques of defense against affect, he has largely re- 
pressed guilt feelings. When the magistrate asks him whether he 
regrets his murder, he answers that "what I felt was less regret 
(du regret veritable) than a kind of vexation (un certain ennui)" 
(p. 87). When the public prosecutor accuses him of his lack of 
guilt feelings about the murder, "I'd have liked to have a chance 
of explaining to him in a quite friendly, almost affectionate way, 
but I have never been able really to regret anything in all my life" 
(p. 127). 

Having repressed his guilt feelings, the hero additionally projects 
the accuser into the outer world. While he consciously feels inno- 
cent of his mother's death, he believes exaggeratedly or at least 
prematurely that others accuse him of it, or of his behavior in con- 
nection with it. (As will be seen below, he behaves presumably in 
part with the unconscious intent of provoking accusations.) He 

The Stranger 259 

tends spontaneously to react to such accusations apologetically 
rather than counterassertively. When he fixes up a two days' leave 
with his employer to attend his mother's funeral, "I had an idea 
he looked annoyed and I said, without thinking: 'Sorry, sir, but it 
isn't my fault, you know' " (p. 1 ) . When the warden of the Home 
in which his mother died briefly recapitulates her history in the 
Home, "I had a feeling that he was blaming me for something [i.e. 
sending his mother to a Home — N.L.] and started to explain" 
(p. 3). At the wake near his mother's coffin "for a moment I had 
an absurd impression that they [his mother's friends who are pres- 
ent — N.L.] had come to sit in judgment on me" (p. 11). When he 
for the first time makes love to Marie the day after his mother's 
death and when Marie learns about this death, "I was just going 
to explain to her that it [his mother's death — N.L.] wasn't my 
fault, but I checked myself as I remembered having said the same 
thing to my employer, and realizing then it sounded rather foolish 
(cela ne signifiait Hen). Still, foolish or not, somehow one can't 
help feeling a bit guilty, I suppose (De toute facon, on est toujours 
un peu fautif)" (p. 24). Finally, the public prosecutor at his trial 
affirms emphatically that "this man ... is morally guilty of his 
mother's death," and adds — referring to a parricide which is on 
the court's agenda — that "the prisoner ... is also guilty of the 
murder to be tried tomorrow in this court" (p. 128) . The projected 
tends to return from projection: when the hero's "callousness" 
about his mother's death is shown in court, "I felt a sort of wave 
of indignation spreading through the courtroom and for the first 
time I understood that I was guilty" (p. 112). 

Another major manifestation of the hero's intense unconscious 
rage consists in the commission of acts whicrf aggress his environ- 
ment and provoke it into aggressing him, thus alleviating his guilt. 
The self-destructive aspects of these acts is only little conscious; 
and the same is true for the aggressive aspect of some of them. 
For example, the hero adopts a "free association" policy in his 
verbal utterances, however grave the consequences of this may be. 
When he is asked to speak at his trial, "I said the first thing that 
crossed my mind ... as I felt in the mood to speak" (p. 129). The 
hero is consistently and consciously frank, in words and acts, in 


expressing the nonconformism corresponding to his affectlessness. 
(For many of the hero's fictional predecessors the refusal to con- 
form to conventional modes of expressing affect had been related 
to the awareness of a unique intense nuance of affect which in- 
sisted on its own channels.) He indicates clearly his lack of grief 
about the death of his mother and refuses to go through the paces 
of conventional mourning behavior (p. 31, passim), his atheism 
(p. 85, passim), his lack of response to others as conveyed by 

_The effect, of course, is to stimulate hostilities directed against 
himself. But the hero scarcely — or only belatedly — recognizes this. 
He has, indeed, little empathy for his environment's aggressive re- 
actions to acts of his own which are interpreted as aggressive. As 
he represses destructiveness in himself, he denies it in others. When 
he communicates to his lawyer his unfavorable attitudes toward his 
mother, the lawyer makes him promise "not to say anything of 
that sort at the trial" (p. 80). Thereupon the hero attempts to 
satisfy the lawyer: "Anyhow I could assure him of one thing: that 
I'd rather Mother hadn't died." He has no awareness of the un- 
favorable impact of such a communication. On the contrary, a 
recurrent conscious motivation of his is "to keep out of trouble," 
for example, by complying with demands made by others. Simi- 
larly, at the trial (where he behaves with resigned passivity and his 
usual provocative candor) he has great difficulties in realizing emo- 
tionally the seriousness of the public intent to murder him for his 
murder. He exaggerates the mildness of the world, and this is the 
counterpart to the presentation of the world as deprivational by 
withholding: the world isn't sufficiently interested in me to be out 
for my skin. (This belief also serves as a defense against panic.) 
Thus the imprisoned hero lacks up to a late moment the convic- 
tion that he is in danger: "At first I couldn't take him [the examin- 
ing magistrate — N.L.] quite seriously. The room in which he in- 
terviewed me was much like an ordinary sitting-room . . ." (p. 78); 
"it all seemed like a game" (ibid.); "When leaving, I very nearly 
held out my hand and said 'Good-bye!' " (ibid.). When a routine 
of conversations between the magistrate, the hero, and his lawyer 
has become established, "I began to breathe more freely. Neither 

The Stranger 261 

of the two men, at these times, showed the least hostility toward 
me, and everything went so smoothly, so amiably, that I had an 
absurd impression of being 'one of the family' " (p. 88). When he 
first sees his jury, "I felt as you do just after boarding a streetcar 
and you're conscious of all the people on the opposite seat staring 
at you in the hope of finding something in your appearance to 
amuse them. Of course, I knew this was an absurd comparison" 
(p. 103). 

Beside chronic covert self-destructive aggressiveness stand major 
explosions of overt aggressiveness: the murder of the Arab and an 
assault on the prison chaplain. A closer analysis of these acts may 
show how they fit into the character structure hitherto described. 
How are the defenses against completing rage overcome? 

1 . The aggressions are felt as inexplicable explosions originating 
outside the self and overwhelming it. "Then [at a certain point in 
the protracted exhortation addressed by the prison chaplain to the 
hero awaiting execution *— N.L.] I don't know how it was, but some- 
thing seemed to break (crever) inside me, and I started yelling 
at the top of my voice. I hurled insults at him. ... I'd taken him 
by the neckband of his cassock, and, in a sort of ecstasy of joy and 
rage (colere), I poured out on him all the thoughts that had been 
simmering in my brain" (p. 151). 

The murder of the Arab is presented as forced upon the hero 
by the primarily somatic and only secondarily psychic impact of 
the heat (a projection of the hero's impulses, we may surmise, onto 
emanations of the sun, a frequent paternal symbol) : "As I slowly 
walkedT towards the boulders at the end of the beach [where the 
hero will find his victim — N.L.] I could feel my temples swelling 
under the impact of the light" (p. 73). When he is near the Arab, 
whose posture is then entirely defensive, "it struck me that all I 
had to do was to turn, walk away, and think no more about it. 
But the whole beach, pulsing with heat, was pressing on my back 
(se pressait derriere moi). All the sweat that had accumulated in 
my eyebrows splashed down on my eyelids, covering them with a 
warm film of moisture. Beneath a veil of brine and tears my eyes 
were blinded; I was conscious only of the symbols of the sun clash- 
ing on my skull" (pp. 74-75). (The sun as inducer of "daze," 


while a bout of intense motor or psychic activity is performed, 
recurs throughout the novel.) 

The murder itself appears — with a projection of destructiveness 
onto a target yet more remote from the self — as a cataclysmic re- 
lease of violence in nature: "Then everything began to reel before 
my eyes, a fiery gust came from the sea, while the sky cracked in 
two, from end to end, and a great sheet of flame poured down 
through the rift" (p. 76). 5 

According to Newsweek (April 15, 1946) the hero "commits 
murder . . . with the utmost casualness." According to Time Maga- 
zine (May 20, 1946) "he . . . casually pulls the trigger of the 

2. The hero consciously attempts to resist the explosion of ag- 
gression. First, he prevents his pimp acquaintance from shooting 
the Arab whom he later kills. When he walks on the beach in the 
direction of his victim, "each time I felt a hot blast strike my fore- 
head, I gritted my teeth, I clenched my fists in my trouser pockets 
and keyed up every nerve to fend off the sun and the dark befud- 
dlement (cette ivresse opaque) it was pouring into me . . . my jaws 
set hard. I wasn't going to be beaten." But the very attempt to 
resist the consummation brings it nearer: The sun appears at this 
moment as "trying to check my progress" and thereby leading the 
resisting hero unknowingly toward his victim. Once confronted 
with this victim, the sun bars retreat (cf. above), although the 
hero, taking another step forward, "knew it was a fool thing to do" 
(p. 75). 

3. The hero encounters his victim without knowing that he will 
do so: "I was rather taken aback" (p. 74). 

4. The hero appears to himself as acting in self-defense. His 
fantasies of being destroyed (suggestive of castration anxieties) go 
far beyond the real threat. When "the Arab [at a safe distance and 
with an apparently defensive purpose — N.L.] drew his knife and 
held it up towards me, athwart the sunlight ... a shaft of light 
shot upward from the steel, and I felt as if a long, thin blade trans- 
fixed my forehead. ... I was conscious ... of the keen blade of 
light flashing up from the knife, scarring my eyelashes and gouging 
into my eyeballs" (p. 75). 

The Stranger 263 

5. The hero has a conscious instrumental motivation in perform- 
ing the acts leading up to his crime; this motivation is super ego- 
syntonic. He approaches, unknowingly, his victim, who is in the 
shadow and near water, in search of relief from the sun. Walking 
on the beach, "the small black hump of rock [behind which the 
Arab is lying — N.L.] came into view. . . . Anything ... to retrieve 
the pool of shadow by the rock and its cool silence (J'avais envie 
. . . de retrouver V ombre et son repos) ... I couldn't stand it [the 
heat — N.L.] any longer, and took another step forward. I knew it 
was a fool thing to do; I wouldn't get out of the sun by moving on 
a yard or so. But I took that step, just one step forward. And then 
the Arab drew his knife" (p. 75). 

6. Guilt-alleviating and anxiety-enhancing factors such as the 
ones mentioned facilitate the temporary but total return of the re- 
pressed rage from repression. The self-punitive significance of such 
a return has the same effect. The heat driving the hero to murder 
and hence to his execution "was just the same sort of heat as at 
my mother's funeral" (p. 75): the hero atones for that funeral 
by arranging his own. He feels at the end that he is going to be 
"executed because he didn't weep at his mother's funeral" (p. 152) . 

In addition, "perhaps the only things I knew about him [the 
hero's father — N.L.] were what Mother had told me. One of these 
was that he'd gone to see a murderer executed" (p. 138). Presum- 
ably the hero's own execution is in part for the benefit of this 
fantasied spectator who "had seen it through," although "the mere 
thought of it turned his stomach," and who afterwards was "vio- 
lently sick" (p. 138). (Also "when we lived together, Mother was 
always watching me" — p. 3.) One may surmise that inducing the 
father to be sick has the significance of having a sexual relation 
with him. One may also surmise that being executed in front of the 
scoptophilic father has an exhibitionistic meaning. One may further 
assume that this act is an expiation for aggressive tendencies to- 
ward the father in general and his scoptophilia in particular: "at 
the time [when the hero's mother told him the story — N.L.] I found 
my father's conduct rather disgusting. But now I understood; it 
was so natural" (p. 138). Furthermore, the hero identifies him- 
self with a fantasied spectator of executions (his own?) and thus 


induces an oral scoptophilic and sadomasochistic ecstasy bordering 
on panic: "The mere thought of being an onlooker who comes to 
see the show and can go home and vomit afterward, floored my 
mind with a wild, absurd exultation (un flot de joie empoisonnee 
me montait au coeur) ... a moment later I had a shivering fit . . . 
my teeth went on chattering" (pp. 138-39). 

These gratifications induce rationalizing elaborations of the fan- 
tasy of attending executions: "Often and often [awaiting his own 
execution — N.L.] I blame myself for not having given more atten- 
tion to accounts of public executions. One should always take an 
interest in such matters. There is never any knowing what one may 
come to. . . . How had I failed to recognize that nothing was more 
important than an execution; that, viewed from one angle, it's the 
only thing that can genuinely interest a man. And I decided that if 
I ever got out of jail I'd attend every execution that took place" 
(pp. 136-38). 6 

7. The hero's extreme aggressions are probably unconsciously 
intended to extort concern — be it in the form of indulgences or 
deprivations — from a world whose real or fantasied neglect had 
induced chronic suicide by affectlessness. This syndrome breaks 
down when the hero, in the extreme situation of impending execu- 
tion, is exposed to affect indubitably directed toward him. He is 
then able to drop the image of the world as essentially uninterested 
in him and to react with felt affect to perceived affect. Having got- 
ten a rise out of the world, he can get one out of himself. When 
at a certain moment of this trial the hero "for the first time realized 
how all these people loathed me ... I felt as I hadn't felt for ages. 
I had a foolish desire to burst into tears" (p. 112). When the 
owner of his habitual restaurant testifies in his favor with moist 
eyes and trembling lips, "for the first time in my life I wanted to 
kiss a man" (p. 116). 

8. Prp.giiTT^phly, purilp hment means for the hero — among other ^ 
things — love. In this context the story of Salamano, a degraded old 
man living in the hero's apartment house, and his degraded dog, 
is relevant. (Thinkin g of Salamano "for some reason, I don't k now 
what, I began thin king cf Mother" — p. 50.) The spaniel — of 
whom the hero's mother had been very fond — is "an ugly brute, 

The Stranger 265 

afflicted with some skin disease — it has lost all its hair and its body 
is covered with brown scabs" (p. 32). The dog's relation to his 
master is presented as an extreme sadomasochistic one, with most 
of the overt sadism on the side of the master. Salamano repeatedly 
utters death wishes toward the dog. But when the maltreated span- 
iel finally escapes (to his death), Salamano is in despair and ex- 
presses unconditional love for, as well as total dependence on, the 
lost object. 

9. Presumably the "you'll be sorry afterwards" theme just al- 
luded to enters into the hero's self-destructiveness. In prison he 
finds only one scrap of an old newspaper reporting a murder case: 
A son is murdered by a mother who ignores his identity. When she 
learns about it she commits suicide. "I must have read that story 
thousands of times. In one way it sounded most unlikely, in another 
it was plausible enough" (p. 100). 7 

10. The hero's acts of violence discharge to some extent his de- 
structive tendencies; hence a diminution of the countercathexis 
which is expended on interfering with them. Therefore, the degree 
of the hero's affectlessness decreases during his sojourn in prison. 
He discovers memory; time had been more difficult to kill in free- 
dom. Now he can express affectionate tendencies toward the pun- 
ishing world: "I can honestly say that during the eleven months 
these examinations [by the Magistrate — N.L.] lasted I got so used 
to them that I was almost surprised at having ever enjoyed anything 
better than those rare moments when the Magistrate after escorting 
me to the door of the office would pat my shoulder and say in a 
friendly tone: 'Well, Mr. Antichrist, that's all for the present' " 
(p. 88). After his second act of violence — directed, this time, 
against an obvious father figure, the prison chaplain, and render- 
ing his execution doubly certain — his affectionate tendencies are 
more fully released and attain the level of serene happiness: "It 
was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean (comme 
si cette grande colere nfavait purge du mat)" (p. 154). After the 
assault the hero falls asleep from exhaustion. Awakening he ex- 
periences a reconciliation with the indifferent world and its proto- 
types, the indifferent parents; he can love them though he knows 
they do not love him: ". . . for the first time, the first, I laid my 


heart open to the benign (tendre) indifference of the universe. 
To feel it so like myself, indeed so brotherly." "Almost for the first 
time in many months I thought of my mother" (p. 153). He "un- 
derstands" — and identifies with — her having played at making a 
fresh start just before her death by taking on a "fiance" in the 
Home for the Aged where she lived. The novel ends with the re- 
evocation of the father's execution scoptophilia and with a leap 
from the acceptance of the indifferent world to the acceptance of 
the punishing world: "For all to be accomplished, for me to feel 
less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my 
execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that 
they should greet me with howls of execration (haine)." 

A satisfactory language of aesthetics scarcely exists. If it did, 
I would attempt to formulate in it a favorable judgment on The 
Stranger. Assuming such a judgment, it may be surmised that the 
psychological plausibility (in this case, the "common-sense" im- 
plausibility) of the content contributes to the aesthetic value of 
the novel — which, on the other hand, depends on "formal" charac- 
teristics. Among these there is one of general importance which 
can be particularly well shown in this novel with its unusual terse- 
ness and concreteness of style: the high degree of implicitness of 
the unconscious content layers. That is, the reader is not (as he 
is in numerous "psychologically oriented" contemporary produc- 
tions) told in so many words, or obtrusively led to see, connections 
of the order of those discussed in this paper. Conceivably the au- 
thor is less than fully aware of these connections and certainly 
the critics — and those readers for whom they speak — are largely 
unaware of them. The conditions and consequences of the antago- 
nism between explicitness and aesthetic impact — an antagonism 
which has, of course, already received psychoanalytic attention — 
seem to warrant further speculation and research. 

1 L'Etranger, Paris, 1942. Translated by Stuart Gilbert (New York, 1946). 
All page references are to the American edition. All italics in quotations 
are supplied. 

2 Dr. Martha Wolfenstein's suggestions have contributed to a number of 
points in this matter. 

The Stranger 267 

3 This is in sharp contrast to the intensity of his reactions to external non- 
personal stimuli — to the colors (cf. pp. 14, 20, 93), smells (cf. pp. 10, 20), 
tactile values (cf. pp. 14, 61, 92, 95), sounds (cf. p. 122) of cityscape and 
landscape. These he knows to be his "surest, humblest pleasures" (p. 132). 
The hero is also presented as feeling a persistently strong and unbrokenly 
euphoric sexual attraction toward his girl friend — almost the only point in 
which I would question his plausibility. Perhaps the author, so free from 
many illusions, is here still presenting a derivative of the Western myth on 
the transcendent position of "love" in human nature. 

4 Some critics mistake such defenses for completions of impulse. Thus 
Richard Plant {Saturday Review of Literature, May 18, 1946), affirming 
that the hero's "animal instincts [sic] are nicely developed" gives as evidence 
that he notes with extraordinary sharpness "the heat, the faces of his moth- 
er's friends, the sharp light in the morgue." 

5 When violence begins, the projective impulsion by heat ceases: 'The 
trigger gave. ... I shook off my sweat and the clinging veil of light (J'ai 
secoue la sueur et le soleil)" (p. 76). 

The hero then goes on to fire four more shots. This the magistrate, the 
public prosecutor, and Edmund Wilson (The New Yorker, April 13, 1946), 
takes as a conclusive indicator of "deliberateness." The novel gives no clues 
on the immediate context of these "loud, fateful rap(s) on the door of my 
undoing" (p. 76). 

6 Some speculative points may be ventured here. The hero's interference 
with his destructive tendencies toward his father is accompanied by an iden- 
tification with the (projectively) destructive father. In his precrisis equilib- 
rium the hero is the consciously unintentional spectator of a number of 
beatings, and the equally unintentional audience of stories about beatings: 
He sees or hears an old man living in his house maltreating his dog, the 
pimp beating his unfaithful girl, a policeman beating the pimp, the pimp 
beating the Arab and being counterattacked by him. The pimp tells him 
about previous beatings of the girl and of the Arab. (While these habitual 
"affectionate-like" beatings of the girl "ended as per usual," the hero's love- 
making to Marie is free from overt destructive admixtures.) In the murder 
of the Arab, however, he makes the decisive transition toward an act of 
violence of his own. On behalf of what may be a degraded father figure (the 
pimp) he aggresses (by his complicity in the pimp's revenge scheme) what 
may be a degraded mother figure (the pimp's Arab girl) and destroys her 
brother-defender himself? If so, his murder would be a suicide not only in 
its unconscious provocative intent but also in its immediate significance. 

7 If this were a "real-life" case, the exposure of the subject to the story 
would be regarded as accidental and his reaction to it as significant. As this 
is a fantasy case, both are significant. This point is implicit in certain pre- 
ceding passages of this paper, e.g., in the discussion of the hero as a fre- 
quent spectator of beatings (cf. note 6). 

Part Three 

Ernst Kris 

The Contribution and 

Limitations of Psychoanalysis 

What are those things like which, by contem- 
poraries or (under changed conditions) by posterity, tend to be 
e ndowed with the specific aura which the word art conveys? What 
must the men have been like who made these things, and what did 

thpir wnrlf mean tn thp.msp.1 yes and { Q their public? 

These are some of the questions which the study of art suggests 
and which no one discipline of knowledge can hope to answer; 
moreover, no answer can hope to be satisfactory unless these ques- 
tions are interrelated. In this essay we are concerned with the 
actual and potential contribution of psychoanalysis to this wide 
field of inquiry, which, however ill defined, cannot fail to exercise 
a singular fascination. 

In speaking of psychoanalysis we refer to a complex set of con- 
structs and general asumptions on which specific hypotheses are 
based, to a broad framework for the study of human behavior 
which allows for the study of a large number of interdependent 
factors. Psychoanalytic propositions fulfill the general requirements 
of theory in science. They unify special assumptions under more 



general ones, indicate what tests for validation and refutation of 
specific hypotheses are meaningful, and facilitate the formulation 
of new hypotheses which in turn can be tested. Hence constructs 
and basic assumption s must be revised from time to time jn.order 
to retain Jheir use fulness . 

In many instances, particularly when psychoanalysis is being 
"applied" outside of clinical work, its contribution tends to be 
characterized by one or several quotations from Freud's writings. 
Not that their value should be minimized; but isolated quotations, 
however poignant, tend to convey a static impression and suggest 
that Freud mainly attempted to demonstrate the validity of a 
given set of hypotheses, adding, as it were, insight from various 
sources. Nothing could be more misleading. Freud's work consists 
of continuous attempts to unify detailed observations by an ex- 
planatory framework and to revise the theory thus obtained in 
the light of new empirical data or impressions. This revision led 
repeatedly to radical reformulations of constructs, basic assump- 
tions, and specific hypotheses — a development which tends to be 
obscured by the reliance on "representative quotations." * 

From the early days of psychoanalysis many authors, utilizing 
primarily clinical observations, participated in the process of revi- 
sion of theory, sometimes stimulating Freud's own revisions and 
reformulations and at other times contradicting his views. 

This process has gained momentum with the increase in num- 
bers of trained analysts. When alternative propositions reach a 
certain point, "schools" of analytic thought arise and are propa- 
gated. Next to rather obvious psychological factors, the nature of 
the subject matter itself is responsible for such consequences of 
controversy: The difficulty of deciding between alternative propo- 
sitions favors the tendency to substitute dissent for discussion. We 
do not mean to imply either that decision between alternatives 
cannot be reached or that opposing views are destined to coexist: 
The testing of hypotheses would in many instances (particularly 
the more important ones) require a considerable amount of time 
as well as complex testing procedures, and crucial experiments 
can only rarely be specified. In most instances clarification depends 
on the gradual progress of insight derived from many sources of 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 273 

evidence, mainly the progress of clinical observation and of thera- 
peutic technique. Of their subsidiaries, psychoanalytically oriented 
studies in child development illustrate best the productive aspects 
of "validation." By bringing new problems to the observer's atten- 
tion, validation becomes part of the regular progress in science. 

Dissent in psychoanalysis must be mentioned in this context 
not only to characterize the writer's position, but also for reasons 
pertaining to the subject at hand. In discussions on psychoanalysis 
and art the tendency to simplify or to abbreviate psychoanalytic 
thinking is particularly noticeable. This seems to imply that the psy- 
chological understanding of art requires simpler assumptions than 
the psychological understanding of the activities more regularly or 
exclusively investigated by psychiatrists — a view that need not be 
refuted once one has pointed to its clandestine existence. It might, 
however, be useful to illustrate in what way simplification tends to 
be misleading. While in their clinical work psychiatrists are accus- 
tomed to assess carefully the requirements of a specific environ- 
mental situation, the "reality" in which the artist creates is often 
neglected. "Reality" is used here not so much in the restricted 
sense of immediate needs and material environment as in another 
and extended sense: The structure of the problem which exists 
while the artist is creating, the historical circumstances in the de- 
velopment of art itself which limit some of his work, determine 
in one way or another his modes of expression and thus consti- 
tute the stuff with which he struggles in creation. 

The widespread neglect of such circumstances, supreme in C. G. 
Jung's contributions to the vast area of psychoanalysis and art, is 
facilitated by the use of an abridged, and hence frequently vul- 
garized, conceptual framework. The nature of this abridgment, as 
far as Jung is concerned, has been discussed in considerable detail 
by Edward Glover. To no other system of alternative propositions 
has a similar discussion been devoted. However, it seems that the 
schools of psychoanalytic thought — whatever their scope — which 
have developed during the last decades resemble in one respect 
the earlier ones, exemplified by Jung's approach: They have to 
organize isolated alternatives into a systematic presentation. They 
tend to reduce the complexity of psychoanalytic thinking and to 


offer abridgments by creating artificial dichotomies. Some abandon 
the "biological" roots for the emphasis on "social" aspects — an 
antithesis which in itself is spurious — or reverse the relationship 
by ignoring environmental conditions. They may limit the scope 
of the instinctual drives for the sake of the inhibitory and con- 
trolling organizations, or take the opposite attitude. Many of them 
eliminate constructs — preferably, concepts of energy — which seem 
highly serviceable and do not replace what they omit except by 
recourse to concepts unrelated to psychoanalysis itself; and thus 
the usefulness of psychoanalysis as a theory is impaired. The later 
work of Otto Rank, particularly his voluminous book on Art and 
the Artist (1932), offers the most regrettable example of a similar 
procedure. While it excels by its array of information, there is no 
thought to unify this material, but rather an endeavor to disprove 
what Freud, and Rank himself, wrote earlier. The vast amount of 
quotation from sources of various degrees of reliability screens the 
fact that the conceptual framework of psychoanalysis has been 
simplified to a point where it can contribute hardly more than 
common-sense psychology of the pre-Freud era. 

The present attempt, opposed to abridgments and simplifica- 
tions, rests on the assumption that the complete system of psycho- 
analysis offers at present the best chances for understanding and 
predicting human behavior. It is an "open system," achieved by 
synchronizing hypotheses which have been formulated during the 
total course of the development of psychoanalysis — a system not 
only exposed to constant amplification and emendation, but based 
on the clarification of some semantic contingencies. 

The potential contribution of psychoanalysis to the study of art 
can, I believe, be assessed only if one takes advantage of the 
differentiated tools psychoanalytic theory offers. But this is not 
the only precondition; at least one other must be mentioned. Art 
— the humanities in general — tend to be viewed as a province out- 
side the confines of science, and if science penetrates into their 
field it is in the disguise of history. Historians are skilled in estab- 
lishing the nature of events of the past (and no one is less inclined 
than the writer to underestimate the rigor of their methods). The 
events themselves, however, concern human behavior and are part 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 275 

of that broad, ill-defined field which reaches from anthropology 
to the confines of medicine — the cultural and social sciences. Seen 
in this context, the study of art is part of the study of communica- 
tion. There is a sender, there are receivers, and there is a message. 
These all are, it is true, of a very special and enigmatic kind, and 
yet only if viewed within a similar framework can the study of art 
become part of the gradual integration of our knowledge of man. 

During the last twenty years there has been repeated discussion 
of the question of the distance from psychoanalytic thinking at 
which the social sciences in general find it useful to formulate their 
assumptions. While the sociologist or economist studies predomi- 
nantly aspects of human life different from those with which psy- 
choanalysis deals — man's central psychological conflicts — the stu- 
dent of art shares presumably common ground with the psychiatrist: 
It has been said that he deals with similar stuff. As in other areas 
of research, the attempt to use psychoanalytic thinking may well 
lead art criticism to propositions derived from psychoanalysis but 
designed to meet the special requirements of its own field; a sig- 
nificant step wherever interdisciplinary contact is established. 

While the potential contribution of psychoanalysis to the study 
of art is thus bound to lead into uncharted land, an evaluation of 
its actual, past contributions can best be obtained if we briefly 
turn to the history of psychoanalysis itself. In its heroic age the 
validity of the earliest hypotheses had to be established. Clinical 
data were scarce and could in many instances not be communi- 
cated in support of the hypotheses. Moreover, when clinical data 
could be used, there remained the objection that Freud's general 
psychological findings were valid only within pathology. The study 
of documents of culture, foremost among them works of art, 
seemed a field where supplementary evidence could be gained. 
The intensive research activity which followed on the opening of 
this nonclinical field was mainly concerned with three problems: 
first, the "ubiquity" in mythological and literary tradition of cer- 
tain themes known from or related to the fantasy life of the indi- 
vidual; second, the close relationship between the artist's life history 
in the psychoanalytic sense and his work; and, third, the relation- 
ship between the working of creative imagination, the productive 


capacity of man, and thought processes observed in clinical study. 

The very fact that certain themes of human experience and 
conflict are recurrent wherever men live or where, at least, certain 
cultural conditions prevail (best known from the tradition of Medi- 
terranean civilizations) — the fact that from Sophocles to Proust 
the struggle against incestuous impulses, dependency, guilt, and 
aggression, has remained a topic of Western literature — seems 
after almost half a century, as well established as any thesis in the 
social sciences. It has proved immensely stimulating, opening vistas 
that had remained inaccessible as long as the comparative study 
of mythological and literary themes had been based exclusively 
on general cosmological or specific historical considerations. Prog- 
ress beyond these initial findings — richly documented in the early 
encyclopedic writings of Otto Rank — has on the whole turned in 
one major direction: psychoanalytic interpretation was expanded. 
The complexity of these themes became more firmly established. 
The existence of a larger number of contributing determinants 
seemed better to account for the intensity of appeal which these 
themes retained. 

This expansion of interpretation of mythological and literary 
themes reflects some trends in the development of psychoanalysis. 
When the emphasis on the uniqueness of the mother-child rela- 
tionship during the pre-Oedipal phase had gained importance in 
Freud's thinking, the destiny of Oedipus, for example, came to be 
viewed not only as a fate determined by the rivalry between son 
and father, but also by the son's unsatisfied longing for, and retali- 
atory impulses against, a mother who had betrayed her infant. 
Hamlet's conflict was no longer viewed only in relation to his 
repressed parricidal impulses, but as codetermined by his hidden 
and dangerously submissive attachment to an idealized father. 
Some authors went further and stressed the part which matricidal 
impulses play in Hamlet's musings. Similar additions and reinter- 
pretations of widely spread themes have become rather frequent. 
They use a fair sample of the hypotheses which during the last 
decades have developed, some intending to supplement, others to 
supplant, older psychoanalytic interpretations. Wherever contro- 
versy arises — it is rarely made explicit — decision must be expected 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 277 

to come from the area in which these hypotheses were formulated, 
that is, from clinical and experimental studies. 

However significant some of these additions to previously as- 
sembled knowledge are, they have not basically enlarged our views. 
It is striking that extensions of research have neglected one aspect. 
The wide distribution of certain themes was particularly revealing 
as long as Freud's hypotheses on the generality of certain instinc- 
tual strivings was being tested, that is, as long as the study of the 
id dominated psychoanalytic interest. Since psychoanalytic ego 
psychology has sharpened our eyes for the specific within the gen- 
eral, one might have expected that the variations of general themes 
previously studied would have attracted attention and that the 
question would have been asked: Under specific cultural and socio- 
economic conditions, during any given period of history or in the 
work of any one of the great creators within each period, how 
have the traditional themes been varied? What aspects of the 
themes are more and which less frequent, and how are they modi- 
fied? It seems that a wide field of research waits for those inter- 
ested in interdisciplinary integration. 

For different reasons, progress in the second area of original 
psychoanalytic interest has been limited. It no longer seems doubt- 
ful that what a man has experienced during infancy or childhood 
(particularly if experience is not restricted to external events but 
includes patterns of conflicts and their solution) may influence as 
a recurrent theme (or as a defense against it) his thought proc- 
esses, his dreams, and his artistic creations. The extent to which 
psychoanalytic insight has advanced in this respect need hardly be 
stressed. In particular, the constructs of ego psychology, interact- 
ing with the constant refinement of techniques for handling devel- 
opmental problems, have sharpened our eye for the relevance of 
early experiences. And yet it is significant that we have remained 
incapable of penetrating to the central problem which evaded 
Freud's ingenuity. When studying Leonardo da Vinci he had been 
able to enter deeply into the secrets of a man of genius. Deter- 
minants of Leonardo's scientific interest, his obsessional and fre- 
quently self-defeating working habits, could be plausibly traced to 
infantile imprints. The child raised by two mothers — the peasant 


mother and the wife of his father, in whose house he grew up — 
was stimulated to unite almost for the first time in Italian painting 
the Virgin and St. Anna with the infant Christ. Unity between 
the three was established not only by gestures; they seem to 
merge into each other since they are inscribed into a pyramidal 
configuration. By similar devices Leonardo created in several of 
his paintings compositions which exercised considerable influence 
on the development of the art of his time. The phenomenon in- 
vestigated has thus been approached from two sides, the life his- 
tory of the artist and the solution of the artistic problem: One 
can demonstrate the interaction of an incentive in the individual 
life history with the stringencies of an artistic problem, determined 
in Leonardo's case by the development of Italian painting. 

Significant as it is, this very possibility illustrates the limitations 
of our understanding. Two such limitations deserve our particular 
attention. The first concerns mainly the individual; the second, his 
relation to his medium and its potentialities under given historical 

We have no answer to the question why an individual with the 
infantile experience and the particular pattern of defenses Freud 
was able to reconstruct in Leonardo's life history was fated to be- 
come the great creator. It is not the lack or imprecision of the 
data used by Freud and accessible to him in this case which can 
be made responsible for this limitation. Even when we are in a 
position to rely on the innumerable and detailed observations 
which clinical study of creative individuals in psychoanalytic ob- 
servation and therapy brings to the fore, this question remains 
unanswered. All progress we have made has led into one direction, 
which for the sake of simplicity I shall call here vocational choice. 2 
Psychoanalytic material enables us to point to the interaction of 
factors which made one individual turn to painting, the other to 
dancing, writing, or music. At times even broad generalizations 
are suggested; we may feel able to say why one prefers action, 
another contemplation or speculation, why — with apparently sim- 
ilar predispositions — one devotes his life to science and the other 
to art. 3 We have gained a good deal of experience in accounting 
for obvious failures in performance, and psychoanalytic therapy 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 279 

achieves some of its most gratifying results in helping individuals 
overcome both general impairment of their working capacity and 
inhibitions in specific types of endeavor. However, after all this 
has been properly taken into account, there remains the question 
not only of why one is successful and the other is not, but, par- 
ticularly where science or art is concerned, why one is great while 
the other barely reaches medium height. 

We do not at present have tools which would permit us to 
investigate the roots of gift or talent, not to speak of genius. 4 
However, recent advances in ego psychology enable us better to 
focus on this gap in our knowledge and suggest inquiries which 
promise to improve our understanding. We have come to view 
psychological conflict not only as an unavoidable accessory to per- 
sonality development, but also — within certain limits — as an essen- 
tial ingredient and incentive. We are about to study ego develop- 
ment not only in relation to typical conflicts, but also as far as 
the ego's capacities and functions emerge from conflict involve- 
ment and acquire autonomy. In this connection the endowment of 
the personality, its innate equipment, plays a significant role. We 
had been used to view it in terms of potentialities of the individual 
which might be favored or smothered by life experience, stimu- 
lated or suppressed by some of the numerous factors on which 
maturation and development depend. We are about to appreciate 
complementary aspects, that is, the influence which endowment 
may exercise on life experience, and particularly the role endow- 
ment may play in facilitating the detachment of certain ego func- 
tions from conflict, in establishing autonomy in certain activities. 5 
These views prove not only useful in organizing clinical impres- 
sions, but particularly stimulating in observing child development. 
However significant the results of these studies may prove to be 
one day, their impact on the problem at hand, the psychology of 
the artist, will, for a considerable time, remain indirect. 

The question of endowment of individuals for specific activities 
may gradually, and only in years to come, play an increasing role 
in psychoanalytically oriented research. The second problem to 
which we were led by our discussion of Freud's contribution to 


our understanding of Leonardo's work suggests even more arduous 

Historical and social forces, we said, shape the function of art 
in general and more specifically that of any given medium in any 
given historical setting, determining the frame of reference in 
which creation is enacted. We have long come to realize that art 
is not produced in an empty space, that no artist is independent 
of predecessors and models, that he no less than the scientist and 
the philosopher is part of a specific tradition and works in a struc- 
tured area of problems. The degree of mastery within this frame- 
work and, at least in certain periods, the freedom to modify these 
stringencies are presumably part of the complex scale by which 
achievement is being measured. However, there is little which psy- 
choanalysis has as yet contributed to an understanding of the 
meaning of this framework itself; the psychology of artistic style 
is unwritten. 6 We may expect that the method of approach will be 
an extremely complex one; what psychoanalysis may have to offer 
will probably depend on our ability to view the phenomena of 
style in art at least in part in terms of the processes of discharge 
which they stimulate in artist and public. 

Investigative procedures which have this goal in mind will have 
to vary according to the medium of artistic expression examined. 
Psychoanalytic experience can suggest mainly one principle: In- 
stead of accepting the division of form and content, maintained 
in many areas of the history and the criticism of art, psychoanalytic 
orientation suggests the value of establishing their interrelation. 7 
To illustrate the difficulties of such attempts, we return once more 
to Leonardo's painting. Our understanding of his achievement 
would gain if, in addition to being able to demonstrate that the 
desire to unite the Christ with two mothers is rooted in his child- 
hood experiences, we were able to find a similar root for the 
specific type of merging — for instance, for the construction of a 
pyramidal unit into which the figures are made to fit. 8 

The third of the main avenues on which psychoanalysis ap- 
proached the wide area of art led to the study of the artist's imagi- 
nation. In the initial stages of his work, Freud felt that only the 
attempt at vigorous scientific thinking established a difference be- 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 281 

tween his approach and that of the intuitive psychologists among 
the poets whose writings he had always admired. Even when there 
was no longer any doubt about the independent character of the 
contribution psychoanalysis was able to make, late in his life, he 
spoke of philosophers, writers, poets as "the few to whom it is 
vouchsafed . . . with hardly any effort to salvage from the whirl- 
pool of their emotions the deepest truth to which we others have to 
force our way, ceaselessly groping among torturing uncertainties." 

Throughout the history of analysis statements of men of intro- 
spective genius who had anticipated some aspect of psychoanalytic 
insight have been quoted. No attempt has as yet been made to 
survey this material. While Plato, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Pascal, 
Hobbes, Lichtenberg, Coleridge, Goethe, Melville, Hawthorne, 
Nietzsche, Henry James, and Proust, to mention only a few, have 
contributed views which in many ways coincide with what psycho- 
analysis has ascertained by another method, the fact that with 
each of these men another aspect of psychological dynamics be- 
comes important has to my knowledge never been fully discussed; 
the history of intuitive insight waits to be written, if for no other 
purpose than to demonstrate how the great are less than others 
subject to the limitations which cultural and historical conditions 

This at least is the impression one gains in another area, in 
which the creations of the masters of intuitive psychology were 
made subjects of analysis. Behavior and motivation of characters 
in literature are viewed as the analyst views his patients; the scope 
of these studies has gradually developed, and they have added a 
new dimension to our understanding of literature. Recurrent 
themes in the works of certain writers, treatments of certain con- 
flicts and avoidance of others, have brought us closer to an under- 
standing of the process of creation in literature than any other 
approach; and yet it cannot and should not be claimed that this 
approach exhausts all aspects relevant to what can be called here, 
loosely, an adequate understanding of literature as art. 

The reaction of the writer himself to psychoanalytic interpreta- 
tions of his work has proved revealing in the few instances in 
which it has been recorded. When Freud published his most de- 


tailed analysis of a work of narrative art, the essay on dreams 
and delusion in the novel Gradiva, the aged author, Wilhelm 
Jensen, a distinguished but not outstanding German writer, reacted 
to the publication in several letters. He was impressed by Freud's 
interpretation, found that it had fully come to grips with the in- 
tention of the novel, but was unaware of the multiple determinants 
in the hero's dreams and delusion to which Freud's analysis had 
pointed. "It might be best," he wrote, "to attribute the description 
of the psychological process ... to poetic intuition, though my 
original training as a physician may have played a part." 9 When, 
during analytic treatment, previously produced works of art are 
investigated, similar responses seem to be typical. Jensen's ap- 
proval was limited to the recognition of the link between conscious 
and preconscious thoughts which Freud had established, but his 
introspection could not encompass what was repressed. During 
psychoanalytic treatment it seems comparatively easy to establish 
connections between preconscious elements in the artist's work 
and those of which he had always been aware. The contributions 
derived from the storehouse of memories and the sometimes very 
numerous clues borrowed from one or the other source in the 
environment and condensed into a single trait appear in analytic 
material sometimes without particular effort. 10 But only extended 
analysis leads to repressed psychic material, to motivation from 
the id — and only this allows full demonstration of the interaction 
and interconnection of elements derived from various stages of 
awareness. 11 

The study of this interaction entered the orbit of psychoanalytic 
investigations early in its history, since its understanding could be 
based on a comparison of the dream work with what one might 
call the "art work"; a comparison particularly significant because 
of the differences which it emphasizes. Freud himself first ap- 
proached the topic in his study on Wit and Its Relation to the 
Unconscious (1905), and since several of the essays which fol- 
low elaborate his thoughts, we limit ourselves here to one remark 
only, anticipating what will later be discussed in greater detail. 
The relationship of the ego to the id encompasses not only the 
question of the extent to which id strivings are being satisfied or 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 283 

warded off or the compromises which are achieved. It also en- 
compasses the relationship of primary to secondary processes; but 
the relationship familiar in dream work is reversed: We are jus- 
tified in speaking of the ego's control of the primary process as a 
particular extension of its functions. What in the dream appears 
as compromise and is explained in terms of overdetermination 
appears in the work of art as multiplicity of meaning, which stimu- 
lates differentiated types of response in the audience. The fruitful- 
ness of these points of view in the progress of modern criticism 
and the theory of art has been considerable; it seems to have 
stimulated years ago the work of William Empson, who lately has 
extended his approach to the study of linguistics. At the same 
time it offers an access to that complex field which we mean when 
we speak of "the psychology of the artist." 

The capacity of gaining easy access to id material without being 
overwhelmed by it, of retaining control over the primary process, 
and, perhaps specifically, the capability of making rapid or at least 
appropriately rapid shifts in levels of psychic function, suggest psy- 
chological characteristics of a definite but complex kind. The most 
general, one might say the only general, hypothesis advanced in 
this respect came from Freud (1917), who speaks of a certain 
"flexibility of repression" in the artist. 12 This flexibility, or what- 
ever other and more satisfactory characteristics we might establish, 
is clearly not limited to the artist: These characteristics are related 
to those conditions in which id impulses intrude upon the ego and 
this leads to the question of the extent to which pathological dis- 
positions may be part of what constitutes the artist. It is this 
problem to which Freud referred when he said (1905) that "a 
considerable increase in psychic capacity results from a predisposi- 
tion dangerous in itself." The protection against these dangers lies, 
according to Freud, in the function of the ego, in its capacity for 

In order to equip ourselves for the subsequent steps in our dis- 
cussion, it is necessary at this point to widen the scope of our 
presentation and to touch upon matters seemingly distant from our 
topic. The usage of the word "sublimation" in Freud's own writ- 
ings is far from consistent and was subject to a number of vicissi- 


tudes; as a consequence a number of shades of meaning persist in 
general psychoanalytic usage. However, the variations of meaning 
tend to be less frequently discussed than the conditions under which, 
according to clinical observation, sublimation is favored, a topic 
of central importance in all therapeutic contingencies. 

Sublimation, listed also as one of the defense mechanisms of 
the ego, designates two processes so clearly related to each other 
that one might be tempted to speak of one and the same process: 
it refers to the displacement of energy discharge from a socially 
inacceptable goal to an acceptable one and to a transformation of 
the energy discharged; for this second process we here adopt the 
word "neutralization." 13 The usefulness of the distinction between 
the two meanings becomes apparent when we realize that goal 
substitution and energy transformation need not be synchronous; 
the more acceptable, i.e., "higher," activity can be executed with 
energy that has retained or regained its original instinctual quality. 
We speak then of sexualization or aggressivization. Clinical expe- 
rience points to this danger which may be responsible for malfunc- 
tions of various kinds from symptom formation to inappropriate 

There is one further theoretical problem, particularly complex 
yet probably of considerable significance, that has still to be men- 
tioned: Freud's distinction between primary and secondary proc- 
esses was based on the idea that in the former energy was fluid, 
ready for immediate discharge, in the latter, bound, at the disposal 
of the ego. One might be inclined to assume that in speaking of 
neutralized energy we have in fact only substituted another word 
for bound energy, that the two conditions are identical. However, 
there are reasons which make it advisable to refer to both condi- 
tions as frequently but not always synchronous; they are to some 
extent independent variables. Hence the degree of neutralization 
may be low, yet we may be dealing with secondary processes; 
while fully under the control of the ego, fully bound, the energy 
may still have retained the hallmark of libido or aggression. 

The tools which psychoanalytic theory puts here at our dis- 
posal have not yet been fully utilized. It seems possible not only 
to organize the structural characteristics of various types of ac- 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 285 

tivity according to the opportunities they offer for more or less 
direct discharge of instinctual energy, but also to organize them 
according to the degrees of neutralization of libidinal and aggres- 
sive energies which they "require." 

The topic is a wide one and fundamental to many general prob- 
lems in adaptation and personality development. It includes the 
problem of secondary autonomy in ego functions since one is led 
to the assumption that secondary autonomy depends on the irre- 
versibility of energy transformation, i.e., on the permanent or rela- 
tively permanent investment of the ego with neutralized aggressive 
or libidinous energies. However, in addition to these partial and 
relatively permanent changes in energy distribution which seem to 
be of signal importance for personality development, one would 
have to account also for the energy flux, i.e., the transitory changes 
in energy distribution and redistribution such as the temporary and 
shifting reinforcement of sexual, aggressive or neutral energy as it 
may occur in the course of any type of activity. Sublimation in 
creative activity might conceivably prove to be distinguished by 
two characteristics: the fusion in the discharge of instinctual energy 
and the shift in psychic levels. 

The idea of the fusion of libidinal and aggressive energy plays 
a considerable part in Freud's formulation on psychoanalytic the- 
ory. In the study of creative activity, however, one special aspect 
of this broader problem may prove relevant, namely, the special 
assumption that a certain degree of energy neutralization provides 
favorable conditions for fusion and hence for the mastery of even 
particularly intense instinctual demands. 

In speaking of shifts of psychic levels we refer to the organiza- 
tional functions of the ego, to its capacity of self-regulation of 
regression and particularly to its capacity of control over the pri- 
mary process; problems which in some of the subsequent essays 
are treated in relation to special areas of investigation. 

We cannot in the present context and at the present stage of 
our understanding attempt to elaborate on these suggestive possi- 
bilities and have to abandon the idea of a systematic presentation 
lest we impose too great a strain on our as yet limited ability to 
handle highly complex problems of psychoanalytic theory in ex- 


treme abbreviation. We may only point to what may be the goal 
of such a systematic presentation. As far as artistic activities in 
the broadest sense are concerned we might be led into areas of 
problems with which traditionally the theory or philosophy of art 
deals or has dealt, problems concerning the hierarchy of various 
media and various works of art. However, there is no doubt that 
we are familiar with similar problems, though on a different level. 
In clinical practice, by rule of thumb, views concerning both spe- 
cific problems of energy discharge and of ego functions in relation 
to specific types of creative behavior are taken for granted. 

Our expectations are significantly limited when we hear that a 
certain patient is an actor, a dancer, a cartoonist, or a dress de- 
signer. They are less limited but still significant when we hear that 
he is a writer, painter, architect, or poet. In all these cases — in 
the first instances more definitely — we expect that certain typical 
conflict constellations will more likely occur than others: The 
problem of rapidly changing identification may be crucial in the 
actor, that of coping with exhibition in the dancer, the wish to 
distort others in the cartoonist, and to adorn them in the dress 
designer; but each of these dominant wishes — which we here have 
mentioned only in order to characterize one direction of our ex- 
pectations — is clearly merged with innumerable other tendencies 
in the individual, and each of them is rooted in his history. Ac- 
cording to clinical experience, success or failure in these profes- 
sions depends, among other factors, on one to which we referred 
before: on the extent to which the activity itself has for any par- 
ticular individual become autonomous, i.e., detached from the 
original conflict which may have turned interest and proclivity into 
the specific direction. It is at this point that the much-discussed 
question of the function of psychoanalytic therapy in relation to 
creative capacities can be considered. Therapy may facilitate or 
even bring about this detachment of creative ability and of the 
urge to create from immediate conflict involvement. 14 At this point 
the relation to the "special gifts and predispositions which are not 
commonly found in sufficient degree" gains importance; endow- 
ment facilitates the detachment from conflict of those "higher and 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 287 

finer" types of activities "in art and science which at all times are 
the privilege of a selected few." 

Gifts and predispositions have to be studied not only in their 
relation to the conflict in which they may have been rooted, and 
from which they emerge, but also in relation to the structure of 
the activity in which they are put to use. Here again a variety of 
conditions has to be taken into account, foremost among them the 
properties of the media and their function under those special 
historical conditions which determine the modes of expression and 
the "problems" to be solved. It will not be found that the same 
equipment, the same psychological proclivities, will in all periods 
of history make for success — in any given medium or in artistic 
creation in general. Thus the artist whose endowment is deter- 
mined at least in part by the "flexibility of repression" to which 
Freud referred — the one who borders on pathology and conquers 
it by his work — is likely to appear as a leader in art at certain 
periods and not in others. In this sense the "selection" of artistic 
leaders may well proceed according to the same general principles 
which seem to determine the selection of leadership in other areas. 
In the same sense that the structure of a political situation may 
attract certain personality types as main actors, the structure of a 
situation in the development of art in general, or of a specific 
medium, may elicit participation from those whose predispositions 
are likely to fulfill the requirements at the given moment. These 
requirements may in turn be modified by the participants; thus new 
and different types of personalities may become important. 

Put in these general terms, the problems seem simple. To apply 
the principle to any concrete field is another, infinitely more diffi- 
cult, matter — one that once more reminds us of the wide open 
spaces, the areas where integrated research alone can become fruit- 
ful. From what is known at present we may deduce that the artist 
whose creative capacities are close to potential pathology will find 
his place more easily in "romantic" than in "classical" periods of 
art; and since these very terms are not too well defined, except 
when applied to the historical movements of the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries, the psychological aspect may help to clarify 
some of the problems traditionally finked to what we call "the 


style." However, the very contrast we mention is a narrow one; 
we may come close to relevant dichotomies when we think of cul- 
tural conditions in which skill alone predominates and is seen as 
value in art and others where skill without inspiration is held in 
low esteem — and others again where inspiration with even less 
skill becomes acceptable and admired. 

In the history of almost all the arts since the eighteenth century 
the trend to an increased insistence on inspiration seems to be 
detectable — dominant in certain phases, more submerged in others, 
and yet clearly continuous as a movement that gained increasing 
strength, to the point where dream and fantasy could be painted 
and put into words, where relation to stringencies became less 
important, and where finally the work of art became a document 
of the process of creation. In the field of literature this trend has 
repeatedly been characterized, particularly by Praz and Fretet; in 
the representational arts it is outlined by the genealogy which leads 
from Goya to van Gogh and to surrealism. 15 

From another angle we now approach the relation of psycho- 
analysis to art: During the last decades psychoanalytic insights 
into the processes of artistic creation have themselves become part 
of art. Creative artists of our day are wont to use free association 
as a training ground for creative thinking or as an independent 
mode of expression, and some among the surrealists have assigned 
to their work the function of documenting the process of creation 
itself, thus making explicit what previously had been implicit. In 
the present context this is only mentioned since it indicates a re- 
versal of functions; psychoanalysis and its discoveries act as a 
social force upon art and artist. 

If in the light of these limitations we review once more the 
contributions of psychoanalysis to the study of art, the question 
arises of the extent to which these contributions are specific, ap- 
plicable to art as distinct from other human endeavors. Obviously, 
this specificity is true only in a limited sense: Newspaper reports 
are frequently concerned with events no less similar to general 
themes in mythology and individual fantasy than are great works 
of literature. The impact of childhood on all human activities is 
permanent. Psychological intuition is a prerogative of many lead- 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 289 

ers in society, and while it is particularly important in many types 
of art, problems of sublimation and neutralization concern a much 
wider field. 

The quest for what is specific to the psychological processes 
connected with art, its creation and its re-creation, constitutes a 
problem that we can hardly hope to solve. All we can hope is to 
approach it from afar, but we are entitled to value every step we 
are able to take in the desired direction. We propose to take 
structural, dynamic, and economic changes which seem to be char- 
acteristic of what one might call the aesthetic experience into ac- 
count. Our starting point will be the function of art as a specific 
kind of communication from the one to the many. 

1 In order to illustrate the difficulties which arise, particularly in interdis- 
ciplinary communication, we mention as an instance only Sterba's summary 
of Freud's views on art which eliminates many misunderstandings due to 
what might be called the "quotation method." Sterba stresses the gradual 
unfolding of Freud's ideas and — perhaps not quite sharply enough nor in 
enough detail — the reformulations which occurred. When used by non- 
analysts — e.g., in the otherwise excellent book by Weitz — this intention of 
Sterba's summary is largely neglected; psychoanalysis continues to be treated 
as a "static" system. 

2 Findings of psychoanalysis in this area can apparently not be duplicated 
if the data are obtained by other methods than psychoanalytic observation 
and therapy, even if in the interpretation of data a psychoanalytic viewpoint 
is adopted. 

3 Investigations of problems that are related to this area have been under- 
taken by Roe, largely based on projective tests. Roe started out to study and 
was led to tentative generalizations in the area of vocational choice, gener- 
alizations which are of considerable interest, e.g., a comparison of feminine 
traits in artists, scientists, and a large group of professions comprising teach- 
ers, ministers, and physicians. 

4 Bergler writes, "Personally I believe that we are able to define the bio- 
logical and psychological x producing the phenomenon 'of the writer.' Bio- 
logically it consists of a quantitative increase of oral tendencies, including 
the derivations of orality-voyeurism." At this point Bergler's formulation 
seems strictly opposed to the view developed later in this essay. However, 
Bergler continues, "These two biological facts do not per se make a writer. 
In addition there is a specific psychological elaboration, the defensive 
'unification' tendency [Bergler's italics] denying infantile fancied disap- 
pointments experienced at the hands of the preoedipal mother, by autarchi- 
cally setting up the 'mother child shop.' "... At this point a specific defense 
mechanism "encountered exclusively in the artistically creative person" 


[Bergler's italics] is postulated. It seems conceivable that such a specificity 
of defense mechanism might be positively correlated with a certain auton- 
omy in ego function, both primary and secondary. 

5 In this simplified rendering of an important part of psychoanalytic theory 
we have implied certain distinctions suggested by Hartmann, particularly his 
distinction between primary and secondary ego autonomy. 

6 It is significant that no other psychological approach has led to tangible 
or meaningful results. Thus the attempt to use Gestalt psychology by 
Sedlmayr has not led to insight into the psychology of style, nor have re- 
cent contributions by Arnheim and others, who still seem to be engaged in 
searching for a "good" Gestalt, valid under all historical circumstances. 
Ehrenzweig has recently successfully broken away from this tradition and 
attempted to combine Gestalt psychology and psychoanalytic thinking. How- 
ever, his interest is largely centered on a phylogenetic explanation. There 
are few references to concrete phenomena familiar to the psychoanalyst or 
other investigators of empirical data. Without referring explicitly to Gestalt 
psychology, Weiss has pointed to what I think may prove to be a bridge be- 
tween what Gestalt psychologists would refer to as praegnanz and psycho- 
analytic thinking when he suggests that "formal aesthetic pleasure is econ- 
omy of expenditure of psychic energy in perception." 

7 Freud's translation of the formal characteristics of the dream into latent 
dream thoughts offers the model for similar investigations. 

The psychoanalytic approach to the problem of formal elaboration has 
been studied also in relation to music, a field which I do not feel competent 
to discuss. 

8 One is tempted to establish a connection between the insertion of the fig- 
ures into a superimposed body and Leonardo's interest in procreation and 
pregnancy. However, I do not feel that the evidence at our disposal is spe- 
cific enough to establish a relationship between "form and content" on a 
level which would essentially improve our understanding. Pfister's attempt 
to recognize in the painting the vulture of Leonardo's screen memory, ana- 
lyzed by Freud, has not convinced me. 

9 Judging from similar instances, that part can only have been a minor 

10 The psychological approach to literary criticism has achieved its most 
impressive results where the attempt was made to trace similar material by 
a study of the artist's life history and the sources available to him. It suffices 
here to refer to Lowes' work on Coleridge, Murray's on Melville, or Paden's 
on Tennyson. For the specific psychoanalytic evaluation of material thus 
assembled see, e.g., Beres' recent study on Coleridge. 

11 It is regrettable that clinical material of this kind has only rarely been 
available and in most instances cannot be made available. It should, how- 
ever, be said that it tends to remain highly incomplete, because its explora- 
tion is part and parcel of the analytic process and subject to the limitations 
imposed by the therapeutic purpose. Similar considerations concern artistic 
productions during the course of analytic treatment; this situation is, how- 
ever, even more complex, since artistic productions tend to be influenced by 
the existence of the analytic contact and serve, additionally or essentially, 
the purpose of communication in analysis. 

The Contribution and Limitations of Psychoanalysis 291 

12 Related to this flexibility is another of Freud's hypotheses, his emphasis 
on the artist's bisexuality, which plays frequently a role in the passive expe- 
rience during creation. 

Various authors have contributed hypotheses which could be viewed as 
pointing to ontogenetic factors related to both of Freud's suggestions. I men- 
tion particularly Lowenfeld who assumes that early traumatic experiences 
form one of the preconditions to artistic creativity in stimulating a lasting 
need to repeat actively what was once experienced passively. There is a pos- 
sible connection between this suggestion and those of Bergler's (see note 4), 
who in a large number of analyzed cases of "writers" found among other 
factors the prevalence of the defense against oral-masochistic tendencies. 
A survey of these and other views on the psychoanalytic psychology of "the 
artist" is not intended here. Such a survey would have to distinguish be- 
tween two approaches: There are those who connect the psychology of the 
artist mainly with typical patterns of conflict and those who focus mainly 
on structural problems in the artist's personality. At the present time the 
second approach seems to be the more fruitful one. 

13 We do so since "sublimation" when used to designate energy transfor- 
mation tends to designate that of libido only; since we assume throughout 
that the transformation concerns both libido and aggression, the term "neu- 
tralization" offers better opportunities to avoid misunderstandings. The term 
"sublimation" could thus be reserved for the relation to the goal. 

14 The alleged sterilizing effect of analytic experiences on the creator 
seems in this context as another example of a spurious topic; we would be 
faced with instances in which creation was solely determined by conflict 
(e.g., solely serving the purpose of defense) and did not have a place in the 
autonomous sphere of the ego. This seems broadly to coincide with the clin- 
ical experience of psychoanalysts: The gifted artist "spoiled by analysis" 
seems to be a rare occurrence. 

15 Fretet, a literary critic and physician, stresses that "since Rousseau, 
melancholic and delirious states play a prominent role in the history of art. 
They have a literary tradition. . . ." 

Henry Lowenfeld 

Psychic Trauma and 

Productive Experience in the Artist 

The following is based on the analysis of a 
woman artist in the course of whose treatment some light was 
thrown on a process of artistic development that is characteristic 
of at least one type of artist. 

A woman of thirty sought treatment for increasingly serious 
states of anxiety and various physical complaints and inhibitions 
in her work over a period of several years. She felt herself a fail- 
ure, unable to complete anything she undertook. For years her 
leading symptom had been hypochondriacal ideas. She believed 
herself to be suffering from chronic, fatal diseases such as tubercu- 
losis of the throat, arteriosclerosis or tumor of the brain. Behind 
these hypochondriacal fears were partly concealed paranoid ideas. 

She was a very vivacious, intelligent woman of fine appearance 
with a somewhat unfriendly facial expression. Her manner was 
partly insecure and shy, partly aggressive. She was preoccupied 
with her body and much of her time was spent in all sorts of 
activities revolving about her appearance and health. She was in- 
clined to favor mannish, sport clothes. 

Psychic Trauma and Productive Experience 293 

She both drew and painted. In her early career she had drawn 
much from nude models, especially women; then for several years 
she painted pictures which grew out of dreamlike visions and had 
a fantastic, mysterious quality. At the age of about twenty-two, 
she gave up this type of work for commercial art. She was gifted 
and original, had a strong imagination, but was hindered in her 
work by a technical inadequacy resulting from her inability to 
devote herself to consistent study, a situation of which she was 
painfully conscious. Difficulties arising in her work created a feel- 
ing of complete insufficiency. Wrestling with these difficulties was 
sometimes fruitful of achievement which was sufficient to win her 
some degree of recognition. Despite a predominant feeling of in- 
adequacy, she also had moods in which she felt distinctly talented 
and creative. 

She had a brother, two and a half years older than she. She 
herself was a twin; the other child, a big handsome boy, died a 
few months after birth. She had been, she was told, a small and 
sickly child. She related that upon delivery she had been placed 
upon the floor and ignored because everyone was busy with the 
second, bigger child, a difficult delivery. The twin brother played 
an important part in her fantasy. 

She described her father, a landowner who had died a few years 
before, as a coarse, brutal and hot-tempered person; her mother 
as timid, anxious, constantly worrying and complaining. The older 
brother was favored by both parents. He was a bright, obedient 
child, while she was defiant, and was considered intolerably bad 
and disobedient by the whole family. She quarreled frequently 
with her father who beat her when angered. On such occasions 
she would heap abuse on him with all the resources of her vocabu- 
lary and wish he were dead. 

The period between her seventeenth and twenty-second years 
was artistically her most productive. A sexual experience with 
an older man was followed by several Lesbian relationships in 
which she played the more passive role, and in which she felt 
comparatively content. During the same period she had several 
flirtations with men in which she remained indifferent until she 
met the man she married. She saw in him a powerful, athletic 


man. This attracted her and was, in her opinion, the decisive factor 
in her choice. But in the marriage relationship it developed that 
he took the more passive, devoted attitude toward her, while she 
played a more masculine active role, at times tormenting and 
sadistic. She could become sexually excited, but never completely 

From childhood and particularly frequently in recent years, she 
had dreams from which she awoke in terror or with feelings of 
horror. The dreams were mostly of scenes of war: revolution, 
bombardments, riots from which she was trying to flee though 
paralyzed with fear. 

Her life consisted of an alternation between hunger for experi- 
ences and excitement — a "greed for impressions" as she called it 
— and escape and withdrawal. The short periods of hunger for 
experience and excitement quickly led to increased anxiety and 
to paranoid delusions in which she imagined herself being hurt, 
robbed or persecuted by women. There were experiences in which 
it was impossible to determine what was delusion on her part and 
what reality, because she probably unconsciously provoked situa- 
tions which made various women become her enemies. Hypochon- 
driacal sensations of every type she interpreted as confirmation of 
her fears. She would get a feeling of being completely abandoned, 
unloved and incapable of loving. She would lose all contact with 
the world around her. This detached state likewise led to anxieties. 
Interest in her own body was her roundabout way of finding con- 
tact with the outer world once more. A new dress could banish 
her despair. 

She had numerous recollections from early childhood of in- 
stances when her father, in a sort of rude tenderness, would place 
his whole weight upon her. She could not breathe and feared be- 
ing crushed, suffocated. Her protests angered her father and this 
often led to violent scenes. On one such occasion (warding off 
her father with her knee drawn back) with the heel of her shoe 
she wounded her genitals sufficiently to cause bleeding. She was 
greatly frightened. Her mother, equally frightened, called a doctor. 
Toward her guilty father she felt revengeful satisfaction. This event 
was the basis of a sleeping ceremonial: to this day she sleeps 

Psychic Trauma and Productive Experience 295 

with one hand on her genitals, one leg drawn back, as though in 

Another important experience of her childhood occurred in 
about her seventh year. After an address by her father in the 
legislature, a mob tried to force its way into her parents' house; 
stones were tossed against the windows which were hastily shut. 
Her father was absent, and the family was in terror. Both of these 
traumatic experiences returned repeatedly in her dreams in com- 
bined form. From the same period she also has recollections of 
states of anxiety when on her father's return from one of his fre- 
quent trips she was sent from her parents' to her own adjoining 
bedroom. She would try to overhear what was taking place, and 
apparently experienced numerous primal scenes or fantasies in 
this way. 

These experiences, recurrent in her anxiety dreams, were fol- 
lowed by two more experiences, decisive for the later onset of the 
neurosis. When she was about twenty-one, a well-known clair- 
voyant predicted that she would end her life in insanity or by 
suicide, and warned her not to masturbate so much. In order to 
understand fully the disastrous effect of this prophecy, one must 
know in detail the history of her infantile masturbation in which 
prohibitions and warnings of terrible sicknesses played an impor- 
tant part. It is sufficient here to point out that she had been in 
the habit, during almost intoxicated periods of artistic activity, 
of rubbing against the edge of her easel, thus providing herself 
with a sexual stimulus. Following the prophecy she gave up this 
type of activity, thus losing a safety valve for her tensions. From 
this point began the real development of her neurosis, at first 
evident in withdrawal and restraint, later in the occurrence of 
states of anxiety. 

Following an unnecessary appendectomy and many other thera- 
peutic failures she lost faith in doctors and now turned to spiritual- 
ism. While in a trance a medium received messages foretelling 
that the city in which the patient lived was to be destroyed by 
force from above. This prediction placed the patient in such a 
state of anxiety that she fled from home. The basis of her belief 
in this prophecy could be traced to her childhood. For years she 


had awaited the inevitable coming of disaster. By fearing it she 
sought to prevent it. Only if she thought of it constantly, would 
it perhaps not occur. In her recollections from childhood her father 
appeared as an inexorable force, blocking every avenue of escape. 
This inescapable, inexorable force now appeared as the destruc- 
tive danger from above. Or perhaps it was, "a snake which climbs 
down the wall" into her bed; or the horror she felt at the sight 
of bloody fishes or small birds both in her dreams and in reality. 
This feeling of the inevitable was also a part of her delusion of 
sickness. We find here a feeling of guilt the consequences of which 
are inescapable. 1 

Vague occult ideas she sought to withhold from the analysis as 
her most intimate secrets. According to them, the human being 
lives several different lives, having to atone in each life for the 
guilt of the preceding one. She believed herself to have been one 
of the first feminists. Not having been able to reconcile herself to 
being a woman, she became a man. In her next incarnation she 
was to be born a boy but die young in atonement for her previous 
life. However she had to fulfill her fate as a woman. In another 
incarnation she was destined to die in childbirth. This conflict be- 
tween masculine and feminine, mixed with feelings of guilt, found 
expression in her painting. She imagined that she did not create 
pictures herself, but made copies under the astral guidance of a 
man who transmitted them to her. 

While this patient had rejected her father, she had sought by 
every means, particularly illness, to bind her mother more closely 
to her. She lived in constant fear that her mother would have an- 
other child. An aunt, living in the same house, she had seen preg- 
nant several times. She loved her dearly and developed violent 
sadistic impulses against the pregnant body of her aunt who, in 
this condition, could no longer take her on her lap. Her childhood 
and later life were characterized by this strongly ambivalent atti- 
tude toward both parents. 

The coincidence of artistic talent and neurotic disposition has 
long been observed. Artistically talented persons almost without 
exception are subject to neurotic conflicts. They suffer periods of 
neurotic inhibition in their work, periods of depression and hypo- 

Psychic Trauma and Productive Experience 297 

chondria, fear of insanity, tendencies toward paranoid reactions, 
and, relatively frequently, schizophrenia. Freud has emphasized 
that the essential talent of the artist cannot be explained by psy- 
choanalysis. In Dostojewski und die Vatertotung he speaks of 
Dostoevsky's "unanalyzable artistic talent." Artistic sublimation 
appears to be possible only with the concurrence of definite ele- 
ments of talent. Nevertheless, one might ask what forces drive 
toward sublimation. In order to achieve a better understanding of 
the connection between artist and neurosis, one must investigate 
the nature of the artist's instincts and psychic structure. On this 
basis, the urge to artistic production as well as the danger of neu- 
rotic illness might be explained. 

In the case here presented the striking element is the signifi- 
cance of traumata for the patient's life. Experiences which are little 
different from the experiences of other people take on a traumatic 
character and are fitted into the patient's traumatic pattern. More- 
over, she provokes situations which for her become traumatic. 
Her early experiences with her father, it is true, must be regarded 
as typical psychic traumata — repeated stimuli of such character 
and intensity that the child is unable to cope with them. Although 
it must be assumed that every child has experiences which have 
traumatic effect upon the still weak ego, we seem to deal here 
with a degree of traumatic susceptibility exceeding the normal. 
Here one is reminded of the numerous statements of artists them- 
selves concerning the nature of their experience. Out of the wealth 
of such familiar and often quoted autobiography, we quote from 
the famous dramatist, Hebbel: "I am often horrified at myself 
when I realize that my irritability, instead of decreasing, is con- 
stantly increasing, that every wave of emotion, arising even from 
a grain of sand thrown by chance into my soul breaks about my 
head." In Ricarda Huch's book on the romantic movement we 
find this alternation between oversensitivity and dullness and in- 
sensitivity presented in innumerable variations. The artist, she says, 
"is constantly occupied in reacting to the endless stimulations he 
receives, his heart, seat of irritability, tortures itself in this strug- 
gle, driving his blood violently through the organism to the point 
of powerless exhaustion, to be aroused by stimuli once more." 2 


If we very briefly summarize the comments about the artist to 
be found in analytic literature, we have the following: the essential 
material from which the artist constructs his work is derived from 
unconscious fantasies in which his unsatisfied wishes and longings 
find expression. The compelling experience stems from the Oedi- 
pus complex. The artist suffers, according to Sachs' formulation, 
more than others from a feeling of guilt from which, through the 
participation of others in his art, he achieves recognition and is 
able to free himself. The narcissism of the artist transfers itself to 
his work. In the literature of the past few years emphasis has 
been given to reparation of the destroyed object as a function 
of art. 

In our case we find confirmation of these observations. As long 
as the patient's artistic work, relatively uninhibited, could serve 
as an outlet for her tensions, she was able to spare herself the 
formation of neurotic symptoms. In her work of this period, as 
in her dreams later on, she repeatedly portrayed the traumatic 
experiences of her childhood as well as traumata of her later life. 
The repetition compulsion demands that the injury be overcome 
again and again. But why does this not finally succeed? Why does 
this compulsion not cease, as in the genuine traumatic neuroses 
which after some time usually subside? 

In genuine traumatic neurosis the stimulus defense is perpe- 
trated by an external trauma. The intensity of the excitation is too 
great to be overcome at the instant of occurrence. The attempt 
to overcome it is continued afterwards, but the trauma itself re- 
mains a solitary experience. In our case — and this appears char- 
acteristic for artistic sensitivity — the trauma is re-experienced in- 
definitely. As long as the drive which led to the trauma is active, 
it remains unaltered and subject to the repetition compulsion. The 
danger feared is one of re-experiencing a former state of helpless- 
ness produced by an overwhelming excitation. A greater accessi- 
bility to the unconscious characteristic of the artist brings him to 
closer proximity to the strata of the psyche in which the primitive 
impulses rule. 

The testimony of many artists bears witness to a particular irri- 
tability, a more than average impressionability conducive to psychic 

Psychic Trauma and Productive Experience 299 

traumata, having its basis in the transformation of instincts and 
the "constitution" of the individual. We know more about the fate 
of the instincts than about constitution. The strong instinctual ex- 
citations, never completely discharged, give even trivial experi- 
ences a particularly impressive character. About the corresponding 
constitution little is known, but one is forced to assume its exist- 
ence. One most important aspect of this constitution is the nar- 
cissism of the artist of whose significance the statements of artists 3 
themselves and the results of analytical studies leave no doubt. 
The psychopathology of artists likewise points to narcissism: hypo- 
chondria, depressive and paranoid tendencies, frequent schizo- 

In Dostojewski und die Vatertotung, Freud states that a bisexual 
constitution is one of the conditions or furthering factors of the 
neurosis. "Such [a constitution] must definitely be assumed for 
Dostoevsky and manifests itself in potential form (latent homo- 
sexuality) in the significance for his life of friendships with men, 
in his remarkably tender attitude toward rivals in love and in his 
unusual understanding for situations which can only be regarded 
as repressed homosexuality, as many examples from his writings 
bear witness. . . ." Another part of the same paper says: "We may 
trace the fact of his extraordinary feeling of guilt as well as his 
masochistic way of living back to a particularly strong feminine 
component. That is the formula for Dostoevsky: a man of espe- 
cially strong bisexual constitution." 

This formula may well hold true for the artist in general. Above 
all, it throws light upon the coincidence of artist and neurosis. 
Heightened bisexuality, a complication in the resolution of the 
Oedipus phase, increases ambivalence and feelings of guilt, thus 
giving rise to conflicts which easily lead to neurosis. 

The concept of bisexuality, emphasized by Freud for Dostoev- 
sky, contains a truism which has been stated by most artists in 
moments of self-expression. In bodily structure, too, particularly 
in likenesses of young artists we find a conspicuously large number 
of characteristics of the opposite sex. We are familiar with the rela- 
tive frequence of overt homosexuality or strong homosexual tend- 
encies in artists of both sexes. Sappho gave Lesbian love its name. 


In Freud's Leonardo da Vinci, Sadger's Kleist, and in Hebbel and 
many others, the strong bisexual element is established. Kris writes 
in his paper on Franz Xavier Messerschmidt that in his self-portrait 
"the defense against seduction as a woman" plays the essential part. 
"What he creates — his own countenance — seems feminine to him." 
In Ricarda Huch's book on the German romantic movement, we 
find an abundance of such material. 

In the case of the patient we have described, parturition fan- 
tasies were prominent in childhood and puberty. Later, pregnancy 
and childbirth filled her with horror and disgust. Her dream life 
was nevertheless filled with fear-wracked anal parturition fantasies 
which usually terminated in an incapacity to give birth and a re- 
turn to her mother. Her variously determined physical symptoms 
proved in part to be distorted pregnancy fantasies. Beside the guilt 
feeling which ruled her life, the feeling of "inadequacy of her body" 
played a decisive part in the frustration of her desire for children. 
The feeling of inadequacy arose from comparison with the favored 
brother and with the beautiful deceased twin. The symbolic equation, 
child = penis, was also transferred to her artistic activity and was 
lost only temporarily when an artist birth act, after violent struggle, 
was successfully carried to completion. 

We find such comparisons in the writings of numerous artists, 
in which the hardships as well as the pleasures of creation, in like 
manner, are repeatedly described as the pains and pleasures of giv- 
ing birth, and in which their own works are spoken of as their 
children. Thus Thomas Mann writes that "all forming, creating, 
producing is pain, struggle and pangs of labor." Rank cites Alfred 
de Musset: ". . . Creation confuses me and makes me shudder. 
Execution, always too slow for my desire, stirs my heart to terrible 
palpitation and weeping, holding back violent cries only with dif- 
ficulty, I give birth to an idea." In another place: "It [the idea] 
oppresses and torments me, until it becomes realizable, and then 
the other pains, labor pains, set in, actual physical pains that I 
cannot define. Thus my life passes away, if I let myself be domi- 
nated by this giant of an artist who abides in me." Here we see 
the tension between the two elements distinctly expressed. The be- 
getting in work emphasizes sometimes the masculine, sometimes 

Psychic Trauma and Productive Experience 301 

the feminine element — creation or surrender. In the fantasies of 
my patient regarding her work, this split was clearly expressed by 
the fantasy that her drawings were delivered to her by a painter, a 
man; she merely copied them. In another life, she had been a man 
and the dead boy twin was a part of her for which she was con- 
stantly searching. 

This conflict and tension can never be completely resolved in 
actual life; it represents, in a way, a condition of unavoidable, 
inherent frustration. This frustration is the source of the artist's 
fantasy, driving him again and again to forsake disillusioning reality 
and to create a world for himself in which he, in his imagination, 
can realize his desires. It forces him to sublimation. The play of 
the child too, to which Freud has linked the fantasy of the artist, 
develops from the circumstance that the child for biological rea- 
sons is still largely denied the realization of his desires and the 
mastering of reality. It is characteristic of the artist that gratifica- 
tion by fantasy alone does not satisfy him; he feels the urge to give 
form, to give birth to his work. The birth of the work leads tem- 
porarily to satisfaction and relief from tension. 

The analogy to children's play is even closer, serving as it does 
the two purposes: one, the pleasurable gratification from fantasies 
in which unfulfilled wishes are realized; second, the mastering of 
painful experiences in repetitious acting-out. We find both elements 
in the artist's work. Frustration drives him to construct his own 
imaginary world of gratification, and in his art overcathexed ex- 
periences are constantly re-created as in play. In comparing the 
works belonging to different periods of an artist's life, we find a 
predominance now of one element and now of the other. 

Returning briefly to the problem of susceptibility to trauma, 
one might speculate as to whether the traumatophilia of the artist 
cannot be linked to his heightened bisexuality. This bisexuality 
makes a unified, nonambivalent object relationship difficult in rela- 
tion to both sexes, thus favoring narcissistic libido fixation which 
again increases the danger of trauma. In a very enlightening 
passage from Hebbel's diary, we find this concept implicitly stated. 
He writes that of the "two antitheses" only one is ever given to us. 


The one having advanced into existence, however, yearns con- 
stantly towards the other, sunk back into the core. If it could 
really grasp it in spirit and identify itself with it; if the flower for 
example could really conceive the bird, then it would momen- 
tarily dissolve into it; flower would become bird, but now the 
bird would long to be the flower again; thus there would no 
longer be life but a constant birth and rebirth, a different kind of 
chaos. The artist has in part such a position to the universe; hence 
the eternal unrest in a poet, all eventualities come so close that 
they would embitter all reality for him, if the power which en- 
genders them did not likewise liberate him from them, in that he, 
by giving them shape and form, himself assists them, in a way, 
to reality, thus breaking their magic spell; it requires, however, a 
great deal and far more than any human being who does not 
experience it himself, within himself, can surmise, not to lose 
equilibrium. And natures lacking genuine form-giving talent must 
of necessity be broken in spirit, whence, therefore, so much pain, 
and madness too. 

A problem is touched upon here which is of basic significance 
for this discussion — the problem of identification. The significance 
of bisexuality in the life of the artist receives here its main support. 
For how could the artist succeed accurately in portraying so many 
characters of both sexes if he did not find them within the realm of 
his own experience? What, for instance, would bring the male artist 
to describe the life of a woman if he did not in so doing repro- 
duce his own unfulfilled experience? In the striving to solve and 
overcome ambivalent attitudes, identification is always attempted. 
The artist projects his ego in polymorphous transformations into 
his work, that is, he projects his inner experiences into an imagined 
outer world. The real outer world, however, is also experienced 
by identification. We find then a process of alternate introjection 
and projection. No better description of this can be given than 
that found in a letter of Schiller: 

All creatures born by our fantasy, in the last analysis, are nothing 
but ourselves. But what else is friendship or platonic love than a 
wanton exchange of existences? Or the contemplation of one's 
Self, in another glass? . . . The eternal, inner longing to flow into 
and become a part of one's fellow being, to swallow him up, to 
clutch him fast, is love. 

Psychic Trauma and Productive Experience 303 

Artistic expression is the sublimation of this eternal, inner longing. 
The quest for exactness of expression, the passion for the mot juste 
arises from this never fully satisfied urge; the struggle with the 
word is the struggle for identification in sublimated form. Flaubert, 
who would struggle for days for a single phrase, wrote: "If one 
possesses the picture or the feeling very exactly within one's self, 
then the word must follow." 

How the urge to identification is experienced and the urge to 
creation arises from it, is very sensitively described in a short story 
by Virginia Woolf. She describes a railroad journey. Opposite her 
sits a poor woman whose unhappy expression leaves her no peace. 
"Ah, but my poor, unfortunate woman, do play the game — do, for 
all our sakes, conceal it!" The game that all people should play 
is to conceal their feelings. The unfortunate woman had a twitch, 
a queer headshaking tic. The author attempts to keep herself from 
being influenced, tries to protect herself by reading the Times. In 
vain. Then they exchange a few words. And while the poor woman 
speaks, "she fidgeted as though the skin on her back were as a 
plucked fowl's in a poulterer's shop-window." Further on we read: 

All she did was to take her glove and rub hard at a spot on the 
windowpane. She rubbed as if she would rub something out for 
ever — some stain, some indelible contamination. Indeed, the spot 
remained for all her rubbing, and back she sank with the shudder 
and the clutch of the arm I had come to expect. Something im- 
pelled me to take my glove and rub my window. There, too, was 
a little speck on the glass. For all my rubbing it remained. And 
then the spasm went through me; I crooked my arm and plucked 
at the middle of my back. My skin, too, felt like the damp chick- 
en's skin in the poulterer's shop-window; one spot between the 
shoulders itched and irritated, felt clammy, felt raw. . . . But she 
had communicated, shared her secret, passed her poison. 

Still seeking to protect herself, the author begins to fantasy about 
the life of the woman, filling the next twenty pages with her imagin- 
ings. She entitles the story, "An Unwritten Novel," by which she 
would seem to reveal that the resolution through identification has 
not been successful. Here we find pictured the urge to iden- 
tification, as well as the threat to the ego from it, the threat 


of being overwhelmed by an exaggerated response to an external 
stimulus reaching traumatic proportions. 

In this ready identification of the artist there remains an element 
of magic which is conspicuous in the imitativeness of children at 
play. The tendency quickly to identify is a basic feature of the 
world of magic. The artist, susceptible to magic to strong degree, 
is able to charm others so that they in turn feel themselves one 
with him. 

It seems that surrender of the artist to the world is almost always 
automatically bound up with an attitude of defense and protection, 
so that the artist never seems to belong completely. It is only this 
defense attitude which allows him to express his experience in his 
work. It may very safely be asserted that artists who do not have 
this defensive attitude become incapable of living or creating. This 
is true of those artistic natures that succumb early to disease, seek 
narcotics, resort to drugs, and sooner or later destroy their per- 
sonalities. In my patient, this defensive attitude was too rigid; she 
had no freedom of identification, the anxiety was too great, so that 
her artistic productivity was inhibited. 


Susceptibility to trauma, a strong tendency to identification, nar- 
cissism, and bisexuality in the artist are related phenomena. 

The basis of the drive to artistic accomplishment lies in a height- 
ened bisexuality. Closely related with this is a traumatophilia, 
compelling the artist to seek and then overcome the trauma in con- 
tinual repetition. From the latent frustration develops the artist's 
fantasy. The urge to identification and expression in work appears 
as a sublimation of the bisexuality. 

The frequency of neurosis in artists may be explained by their 
heightened bisexuality. They are spared neurosis to the degree 
that they succeed in overcoming their conflicts through artistic 

1 This recalls the Ananke of Greek fate dramas and oracular prophecies. 

2 Cf . Thomas Mann: "Es gibt einen Grad dieser Schmerzfahigkeit, der 

Psychic Trauma and Productive Experience 305 

jedes Erleben zu einem Erleiden macht." (There is a degree of this capacity 
to suffer which changes all experience to suffering.); and Richard Wagner: 
"Ja immer im Widerstreit sein, nie zur vollsten Ruhe seines Innern zu gelan- 
gen, immer gehetzt, gelockt und abgestossen zu sein. . . ." (Always to be 
torn with conflict, never to achieve complete tranquility within oneself, al- 
ways to be hunted, always attracted and repulsed. . . .) 

3 Turgenev on Tolstoy: "His deepest, most terrible secret is that he can 
love no one but himself." Thomas Mann: "Liebe zu sich selbst ist immer der 
Anfang eines romanhaften Lebens." (Love for one's self is always the be- 
ginning of living like a character in a novel.) Hebbel: "Lieben heisst, in 
dem andern sich selbst erobern." (To love means to win one's self in the 
other person.) 

Otto Rank 

Life and Creation 

What would live in song immortally 
Must in life first perish. . . . 


Before we trace the rise and significance of this 
"artist's art," if one may so call it, as it grows out of the primitive 
art ideologies, it is perhaps desirable to characterize more clearly 
its essential precondition: namely, the creative personality itself. 
In spite of all "unconsciousness" in artistic production (a point to 
which we shall return later), there can be no doubt that the mod- 
ern individualist type of artist is characterized by a higher degree 
of consciousness than his earlier prototype: the consciousness not 
only of his creative work and his artist's mission, but also of his 
own personality and its productiveness. If, as it should seem, the 
instinctive will-to-art (Riegl), which creates abstract forms, has in 
this last stage of artistic development become a conscious will-to-art 
in the artist, yet the actual process which leads a man to become 
an artist is usually one of which the individual is not conscious. 
In other words, the act which we have described as the artist's self- 
appointment as such is in itself a spontaneous expression of the 

Life and Creation 307 

creative impulse, of which the first manifestation is simply the 
forming of the personality itself. Needless to say, this purely in- 
ternal process does not suffice to make an artist, let alone a genius, 
for, as Lange-Eichbaum has said, only the community, one's con- 
temporaries, or posterity can do that. Yet the self-labeling and self- 
training of an artist is the indispensable basis of all creative work, 
and without it general recognition could never arise. The artist's 
lifelong work on his own productive personality appears to run 
through definite phases, and his art develops in proportion to the 
success of these phases. In the case of great artists the process is 
reflected in the fact that they had either a principal or a favorite 
work, at which they labored all their fives. (Goethe's Faust, Rodin's 
Porte d'enfer, Michelangelo's Tomb of Julius, and so on), or a 
favorite theme, which they never relinquished and which came to 
be a distinct representation of themselves (as, for example, Rem- 
brandt's self-portraits). 

On the other hand, this process of the artist's self-forming and 
self-training is closely bound up with his life and his experiences. 
In studying this fundamental problem of the relation between living 
and creating in an artist, we are therefore again aware of the re- 
ciprocal influence of these two spheres. All the psychography and 
pathography (with its primary concern to explain the one through 
the other) must remain unsatisfactory as long as the creative im- 
pulse, which finds expression equally in experience and in produc- 
tiveness, is not recognized as the basis of both. For, as I already 
showed in my essay on Schiller (written in 1905), creativeness lies 
equally at the root of artistic production and of life experience. 1 
That is to say, lived experience can only be understood as the ex- 
pression of volitional creative impulse, and in this the two spheres 
of artistic production and actual experience meet and overlap. 
Then, too, the creative impulse itself is manifested first and chiefly 
in the personality, which, being thus perpetually made over, pro- 
duces artwork and experience in the same way. To draw the dis- 
tinction quite drastically between this new standpoint and earlier 
ones, one might put it that the artist does not create from his own 
experience (as Goethe, for instance, so definitely appears to do), 
but almost in spite of it. For the creative impulse in the artist, 


springing from the tendency to immortalize himself, is so power- 
ful that he is always seeking to protect himself against the transient 
experience, which eats up his ego. The artist takes refuge, with 
all his own experience only from the life of actuality, which for 
him spells mortality and decay, whereas the experience to which 
he has given shape imposes itself on him as a creation, which he 
in fact seeks to turn into a work. And although the whole artist 
psychology may seem to be centered on the "experience," this 
itself can be explained only through the creative impulse — which 
attempts to turn ephemeral life into personal immortality. In crea- 
tion the artist tries to immortalize his mortal life. He desires to 
transform death into life, as it were, though actually he transforms 
life into death. For not only does the created work not go on liv- 
ing; it is, in a sense, dead; both as regards the material, which 
renders it almost inorganic, and also spiritually and psychologi- 
cally, in that it no longer has any significance for its creator, once 
he has produced it. He therefore again takes refuge in life, and 
again forms experiences, which for their part represent only mor- 
tality — and it is precisely because they are mortal that he wishes 
to immortalize them in his work. 

The first step toward understanding this mutual relation between 
life and work in the artist is to gain a clear idea of the psychologi- 
cal significance of the two phenomena. This is only possible, how- 
ever, on the basis of a constructive psychology of personality, 
reaching beyond the psychoanalytical conception, which is a thera- 
peutic ideology resting on the biological sex impulse. We have 
come to see that another factor must be reckoned with besides the 
original biological duality of impulse and inhibition in man; this 
is the psychological factor par excellence, the individual will, 
which manifests itself both negatively as a controlling element, and 
positively as the urge to create. This creator impulse is not, there- 
fore, sexuality, as Freud assumed, but expresses the antisexual 
tendency in human beings, which we may describe as the deliberate 
control of the impulsive fife.. To put it more precisely, I see the 
creator impulse as the life impulse made to serve the individual 
will. When psychoanalysis speaks of a sublimated sexual impulse 
in creative art, meaning thereby the impulse diverted from its 

Life and Creation 309 

purely biological function and directed toward higher ends, the 
question as to what diverted and what directed is just being dis- 
missed with an allusion to repression. But repression is a negative 
factor, which might divert, but never direct. And so the further 
question remains to be answered: what, originally led to such re- 
pression? As we know, the answer to this question was outward 
deprivation; but that again suggests a merely negative check, and 
I, for my part, am of the opinion that (at any rate from a certain 
definite point of individual development) positively willed control 
takes the place of negative inhibition, and that it is the masterful 
use of the sexual impulse in the service of this individual will 
which produces the sublimation. 

But even more important for us than these psychological dis- 
tinctions is the basic problem of why this inhibition occurs at all, 
and what the deliberate control of the vital impulse means to the 
individual. Here, again, in opposition to the Freudian conception 
of an external threat as the cause of the inhibition, I suggest that 
the internal threatening of the individual through the sexual im- 
pulse of the species is at the root of all conflict. Side by side with 
this self-imposed internal check, which is taken to be what pre- 
vents or lessens the development of fear, there stands the will as 
a positive factor. The various controls which it exercises enable 
the impulses to work themselves out partially without the indi- 
vidual's falling completely under their influence or having to check 
them completely by too drastic repression. Thus in the fully devel- 
oped individual we have to reckon with the triad Impulse-Fear- 
Will, and it is the dynamic relationship between these factors that 
determines either the attitude at a given moment or — when equi- 
librium is established — the type. Unsatisfactory as it may be to 
express these dynamic processes in terms like "type," it remains 
the only method of carrying an intelligible idea of them — always 
assuming that the inevitable simplification in this is not lost sight 
of. If we compare the neurotic with the productive type, it is evi- 
dent that the former suffers from an excessive check on his impul- 
sive life, and, according to whether this neurotic checking of the 
instincts is effected through fear or through will, the picture pre- 
sented is one of fear-neurosis or compulsion-neurosis. With the 


productive type the will dominates, and exercises a far-reaching 
control over (but not check upon) the instincts, which are pressed 
into service to bring about creatively a social relief of fear. Finally, 
the instincts appear relatively unchecked in the so-called psycho- 
pathic subject, in whom the will affirms the impulse instead of 
controlling it. In this type — to which the criminal belongs — we 
have, contrary to appearances, to do with weak-willed people, 
people who are subjected to their instinctive impulses; the neurotic, 
on the other hand, is generally regarded as the weak-willed type, 
but wrongly so, for his strong will is exercised upon himself and, 
indeed, in the main repressively so it does not show itself. 

And here we reach the essential point of difference between the 
productive type who creates and the thwarted neurotic; what is 
more, it is also the point from which we get back to our individual 
artist type. Both are distinguished fundamentally from the average 
type, who accepts himself as he is, by their tendency to exercise 
their volition in reshaping themselves. There is, however, this dif- 
ference: that the neurotic, in this voluntary remaking of his ego, 
does not get beyond the destructive preliminary work and is 
therefore unable to detach the whole creative process from his 
own person and transfer it to an ideological abstraction. The pro- 
ductive artist also begins (as a satisfactory psychological under- 
standing of the "will-to-style" has obliged us to conclude) with 
that re-creation of himself which results in an ideologically con- 
structed ego; this ego is then in a position to shift the creative 
will power from his own person to ideological representations of 
that person and thus to render it objective. It must be admitted 
that this process is in a measure limited to within the individual 
himself, and that not only in its constructive, but also in its de- 
structive, aspects. This explains why hardly any productive work 2 
gets through without morbid crises of a "neurotic" nature; it also 
explains why the relation between productivity and illness has 
so far been unrecognized or misinterpreted, as, for instance, in 
Lombroso's theory of the insanity of genius. Today this theory 
appears to us as the precipitate left by the old endeavors to explain 
genius on rational psychological lines, which treated such features 
as depart from the normal as "pathological." However much in 

Life and Creation 311 

the Italian psychiatrist's theory is an exaggeration of the material- 
ism of nineteenth century science, yet undeniably it had a startling 
success, and this I attribute to the fact that genius itself, in its 
endeavor to differentiate itself from the average, has probably 
dramatized its pathological features also. But the psychologist 
should beware of deducing from this apparent factor any conclu- 
sions as to the production or total personality, without taking into 
account the feeling of guilt arising from the creative process itself; 
for this is capable of engendering a feeling of inferiority as a sec- 
ondary result, even though the primary result may be a conviction 
of superiority. As I have said elsewhere, the fundamental problem 
is individual difference, which the ego is inclined to interpret as 
inferiority unless it can be proved by achievement to be superiority. 
Even psychoanalysis in its turn did not succeed in surmounting 
Lombroso's materialist theory of insanity or supplementing his ra- 
tional explanation by a spiritual one. All it did was to substitute 
neurosis for insanity (which was at bottom Lombroso's own mean- 
ing), thus tending either to identify the artist with the neurotic — 
this is particularly the case in Sadger's and Stekel's arguments — 
or to explain the artist on the basis of an inferiority feeling. (Alfred 
Adler and his school took the latter view.) 3 It is characteristic that 
during the last few years the psychiatrists (such as Lange- 
Eichbaum, Kretschmer, Plaut) who have contributed most toward 
clearing up the position of genius are precisely those who have 
managed to keep clear of the one-sidedness of these psychoanalyti- 
cal schools. And if these researches have not made any important 
contribution to the understanding of the process of creating, psy- 
choanalysis, even in its exaggerations, must at least be credited 
with having discovered that experience, in so far as it is the an- 
tithesis of production, embraces not only the relations of love and 
friendship, but also those morbid reactions of a psychic and bodily 
nature which are known as "neurotic." A real understanding of 
these neurotic illnesses could not, however, be satisfactorily ob- 
tained as long as we tried to account for them in the Freudian sense 
by thwarted sexuality. What was wanted in addition was a grasp 
of the general problem of fear and of the will psychology going 
therewith which should allow for the exercise of the will, both 


constructively and destructively, affecting the ego and the work 
equally. Only through the will-to-self-immortalization, which rises 
from the fear of life, can we understand the interdependence of 
production and suffering and the definite influence of this on posi- 
tive experience. This does not preclude production being a creative 
development of a neurosis in objective form; and, on the other 
hand, a neurotic collapse may follow as a reaction after produc- 
tion, owing either to a sort of exhaustion or to a sense of guilt 
arising from the power of creative masterfulness as something 
arrogant. 4 

Reverting now from the production process to experience, it 
does not take long to perceive that experience is the expression 
of the impulse ego, production of the will ego. The external diffi- 
culties in an artist's experience appear, in this sense, but as mani- 
festations of this internal dualism of impulse and will, and in the 
creative type it is the latter which eventually gains the upper hand. 
Instinct presses in the direction of experience and, in the limit, to 
consequent exhaustion — in fact, death — while will drives to crea- 
tion and thus to immortalization. On the other hand, the produc- 
tive type also pays toll to life by his work and to death by bodily 
and spiritual sufferings of a "neurotic" order; and conversely in 
many cases the product of a type that is at bottom neurotic may 
be his sole propitiatory offering to Life. It is with reason, there- 
fore, that from the beginning two basic types of artist have been 
distinguished; these have been called at one time Dionysian and 
Apollonian, and at another Classical and Romantic. 5 In terms of 
our present dynamic treatment, the one approximates to the psy- 
chopathic-impulsive type, the other to the compulsion-neurotic 
volitional type. The one creates more from fullness of powers and 
sublimation, the other more from exhaustion and compensation. 
The work of the one is entire in every single expression, that of 
the other is partial even in its totality, for the one lives itself out, 
positively, in the work, while the other pays with the work — pays, 
not to society (for both do that), but to life itself, from which 
the one strives to win freedom by self-willed creation whereas for 
the other the thing created is the expression of life itself. 

This duality within one and the same type is of outstanding 

Life and Creation 313 

significance in the psychology of the productive type and in the 
work it produces. For, while in the two classes of neurotics (frus- 
trated by fear and by the will respectively) the form of the neurosis 
is of minor matter compared with the fact of breaking down the 
inhibition itself, by the curative process of dynamic equilibration, 
in the productive type the dynamism itself determines not only the 
kind but the form of his art. But this highly complicated problem 
is only mentioned here with a view to discussion later, and we will 
turn from the two artist types, which Muller-Freienfels, in his 
Psychologie der Kunst (Vol. II, pp. 100 et seq.) characterizes as 
"expressive artists" and "formative artists," back to the problem 
of experience which is common to both. This problem, as was 
pointed out at the beginning of this chapter, only becomes intelli- 
gible through the conception of immortality. There appears to be a 
common impulse in all creative types to replace collective immor- 
tality — as it is represented biologically in sexual propagation — by 
the individual immortality of deliberate self-perpetuation. This is, 
however, a relatively late stage of development in the conception 
of immortality, after it has already become individualized — a stage 
preceded by attempts to create conceptions of collective immortal- 
ity, of which the most important is religion. I have tried in an- 
other connection 6 to show how, within religious development itself, 
the idea of the collective soul was gradually transformed into the 
idea of the individual god, whose heir the artist later became. The 
initial conception of an individual god, subsequently to be human- 
ized in the genius, had itself been helped on, and perhaps even only 
rendered possible, by art. But there was an early stage of artistic 
development, which was at the same time the climax of religious 
development, in which the individual artist played no part because 
creative power was still the prerogative of the god. 

The individual artist, whose growth from the creative conception 
of a god has been sketched out, no longer uses the collective 
ideology of religion to perpetuate himself, but the personal religion 
of genius, which is the precondition of any productions by the indi- 
vidual artist type. And so we have primitive art, the expression 
of a collective ideology, perpetuated by abstraction which has 
found its religious expression in the idea of the soul; Classical art, 


based on a social art concept, perpetuated by idealization, which 
has found its purest expression in the conception of beauty; and, 
lastly, modern art, based on the concept of individual genius and 
perpetuated by concretization, which has found its clearest expres- 
sion in the personality cult of the artistic individuality itself. Here, 
then, in contrast to the primitive stage, it is the artist and not art 
that matters, and naturally therefore the experience of the indi- 
vidual takes on the significance characteristic of the romantic 
artist type. 7 Here, obviously, not only do we see the tendency — in 
our view the basic tendency — of the artist type to put oneself and 
one's life into one's creative work; but we see also how, in the eyes 
of this type, the problem of the relation between experience and 
creation 8 has become an artistic (aesthetic) one; whereas it is 
really only a psychological one, which discloses, indeed, important 
points of contact with art (considered as an ideological concep- 
tion), but differs from it in essence. 

For the romantic dualism of life and production, which mani- 
fests itself as a mixture of both spheres, has, as a typical conflict 
within the modern individual, nothing to do with art, although 
obliged like art to express itself creatively. This romantic dualism 
of life and creation, which corresponds to our psychological dual- 
ism of impulse and will, is, in the last resort, the conflict between 
collective and individual immortality, in which we have all suffered 
so acutely since the decay of religion and the decline of art. The 
romantic type, flung hither and thither between the urge to per- 
petuate his own life by creating and the compulsion to turn himself 
and life into a work of art, thus appears as the last representa- 
tive of an art ideology which, like the religious collective ideology, 
is in process of dying out. This does not prevent this final attempt 
to rescue the semicollective "religion of genius" by taking it into 
modern individualism from bringing forth outstanding and per- 
manently valuable works of art; perhaps, indeed (as Nietzsche 
himself, the ultra-Romantic, recognized), it requires that it should. 
On the other hand, it is just the appearance of this decadent type 
of artist which marks the beginning of a new development of 
personality, since the tendency to self-perpetuation is in the end 
transferred to the ego from which it originally sprang. 

Life and Creation 315 

On this issue the romantic becomes identical, as a psychologi- 
cal type, with the neurotic — this is not a valuation, but merely a 
statement of fact — and for that matter the comparison may even 
be reversed, since the neurotic likewise has creative, or, at least, 
self-creative, forces at command. We can thus understand the 
experience problem of the individualist type of artist also only by 
studying the nature of neurosis, just as the therapy of the neurotic 
requires an understanding of the creative type. 9 Now, the neurotic 
represents the individual who aims at self-preservation by restrict- 
ing his experience, thus showing his adherence to the naive faith 
in immortality of the primitive, though without the collective soul 
ideology which supports that faith. The productivity of the indi- 
vidual, or of the thing created, replaces — for the artist as for the 
community — the originally religious ideology by a social value; 
that is, the work of art not only immortalizes the artist ideologi- 
cally instead of personally, but also secures to the community a 
future life in the collective elements of the work. Even at this last 
stage of individual art creativity there function ideologies (whether 
given or chosen) of an aesthetic, a social, or a psychological nature 
as collective justifications of the artist's art, in which the personal 
factor makes itself more and more felt and appreciated. 

If the impulse to create productively is explicable only by the 
conception of immortality, the question of the experience problem 
of the neurotic has its source in failure of the impulse to perpetu- 
ate, which results in fear, but is also probably conditioned by it. 
There is (as I have shown) a double sort of fear: on the one hand 
the fear of life which aims at avoidance or postponement of death, 
and on the other the fear of death which underlies the desire for 
immortality. According to the compromise which men make be- 
tween these two poles of fear, and the predominance of one or 
the other form, there will be various dynamic solutions of this 
conflict, which hardly permit of description by type labeling. For, 
in practice, both in the neurotic and in the productive type — the 
freely producing and the thwarted — all the forces are brought into 
play, though with varying accentuation and periodical balancing of 
values. In general, a strong preponderance of the fear of life will 
lead rather to neurotic repression, and the fear of death to produc- 


tion — that is, perpetuation in the work produced. But the fear of 
life, from which we all suffer, conditions the problem of experience 
in the productive type as in other people, just as the fear of death 
whips up the neurotic's constructive powers. The individual whose 
life is braked is led thereby to flee from experience, because he 
fears that he will become completely absorbed in it — which would 
mean death — and so is bound up with fear. Unlike the productive 
type, who strives to be deathless through his work, the neurotic 
does not seek immortality in any clearly defined sense, but in 
primitive fashion as a naive saving or accumulation of actual life. 
But even the individualist artist type must sacrifice both life and 
experience to make art out of them. Thus we see that what the 
artist needs for true creative art in addition to his technique and a 
definite ideology is life in one form or another; and the two artist 
types differ essentially in the source from which they take this life 
that is so essential to production. The Classical type, who is possi- 
bly poorer within, but nearer to life, and himself more vital, takes 
it from without: that is, he creates immortal work from mortal 
life without necessarily having first transformed it into personal 
experience as is the case with the Romantic. For, to the Romantic, 
experience of his own appears to be an essential preliminary to 
productivity, although he does not use this experience for the en- 
richment of his own personality, but to economize the personal 
experiences, the burden of which he would fain escape. Thus the 
one artist type constantly makes use of life other than his own — 
in fact, nature — for the purpose of creating, while the other can 
create only by perpetually sacrificing his own life. This essential 
difference of attitude to the fundamental problem of life throws 
a psychological light on the contrast in styles of various periods 
in art. Whatever aesthetic designation may be applied to this con- 
trast, from the spiritual point of view the work of the Classicist, 
more or less naturalistic, artist is essentially partial, and the work 
of the Romantic, produced from within, total. 10 This totality type 
spends itself perpetually in creative work without absorbing very 
much of life, while the partial type has continually to absorb life 
so that he may throw it off again in his work. It is an egoistical 
artist type of this order that Ibsen has described in so masterly a 

Life and Creation 317 

fashion. He needs, as it were, for each work that he builds, a sacri- 
fice which is buried alive to ensure a permanent existence to the 
structure, but also to save the artist from having to give himself. 
The frequent occasions when a great work of art has been created 
in the reaction following upon the death of a close relation seem 
to me to realize those favorable cases for this type of artist in 
which he can dispense with the killing of the building's victim be- 
cause that victim has died a natural death and has subsequently, 
to all appearances, had a monument piously erected to him. 11 

The mistake in all modern psychological biography lies in its 
attempt to "explain" the artist's work by his experience, whereas 
creation can be made understandable only through the inner dyna- 
mism and its central problems. Then, too, the real artist regards 
his work as more important than the whole of life and experience, 
which are but a means to production — almost, indeed, a by-product 
of it. This refers, however, to the Classical type only, for to the 
Romantic type his personal ego and his experience are more impor- 
tant than, or as important as, his work; sometimes, indeed, produc- 
tion may be simply a means to life, just as to the other type experi- 
ence is but a means to production. This is why Romantic art is far 
more subjective, far more closely bound up with experience, than 
Classical, which is more objective and linked to life. In no case, 
however, will the individual become an artist through any one ex- 
perience, least of all through the experiences of childhood (which 
seem pretty universal) . The becoming of the artist has a particular 
genesis, one of the manifestations of which may be some special 
experience. For the artistic impulse to create is a dynamic factor 
apart from the content of experience, a will problem which the 
artist solves in a particular way. That is, he is capable of forming 
the given art ideology — whether of the collective kind (style) or 
the personal (genius idea) — into the substance of his creative will. 
He employs, so to say, personal will power to give form or life 
to an ideology, which must have not only social qualities like other 
ideologies, but purely artistic ones, which will be more closely 
specified from the point of view of aesthetics. 

The subjective character of modern art, which is based on the 
ideology of a personal type of artist, imposes also a special outlook 


in the artist toward his own creative power and his work. The 
more production is an essential means to life (and not just a 
particular ideological expression of it), the more will the work 
itself be required to justify the personality — instead of expressing 
it — and the more will this subjective artist type need individuals 
to justify his production. From this point of view as well as others 
it is easy to see that experience, in its particular form of love 
experience, takes on a peculiar significance for the Romantic artist, 
whose art is based on the personality cult of the genius concept. 
The primitive artist type finds his justification in the work itself; 
the Classical justifies the work by his life, but the Romantic must 
justify both life and experience by his work and, further, must have 
a witness of his life to justify his production. The fundamental 
problem of the Romantic artist is thus the self-justification of the 
individual raised above the crowd, while the Classical artist type 
expresses himself in his work — which receives a social justification 
by way of general recognition. But the Romantic needs, further, 
whether as contrast or as supplement to this social approval, a 
personal approbation of his own, because his feeling of the guilt 
of creation can no longer be allayed by a collective ideology any 
more than he can work effectively in the service of such an ideol- 
ogy. In this sense his artistic work is rather a forcible liberation 
from inward pressure than the voluntary expression of a funda- 
mentally strong personality that is capable of paralyzing the subjec- 
tive element to a great extent by making collective symbolism his 
own. The artist who approximates more nearly to the Classical 
type excels less, therefore, in the creating of new forms than in 
perfecting them. Further, he will make much more frequent use of 
old traditional material, full of a powerful collective resonance, as 
the content of his work, while the Romantic seeks new forms and 
contents in order to be able to express his personal self more com- 

Thus, as the artist type becomes more and more individualized, 
he appears on the one hand to need a more individual ideology — 
the genius concept — for his art, while on the other his work is 
more subjective and more personal, until finally he requires for 
the justification of his production an individual "public" also: a 

Life and Creation 319 

single person for whom ostensibly he creates. This goes so far in a 
certain type of artist, which we call the Romantic, that actual pro- 
duction is possible only with the aid of a concrete Muse through 
whom or for whom the work is produced. The "experience" which 
arises in this manner is not, like other sorts of experience, an 
external phenomenon set over against creative work, but is a part 
of it and even identical with it, always providing that the Muse — 
in practice, usually a real woman — is suited to this role or at least 
makes no objection to it, and so long as the artist can maintain 
such a relation on the ideological plane without confusing it with 
real life. It is this case, in which the conflict between life and crea- 
tion reaches extreme intensity, that we so often see actualized in 
the modern type of artist. Here the woman is expected to be Muse 
and mistress at once, which means that she must justify equally the 
artistic ego, with its creativeness, and the real self, with its life; and 
this she seldom (and in any case only temporarily) succeeds in 
doing. We see the artist of this type working off on the woman his 
inward struggle between life and production or, psychologically 
speaking, between impulse and will. It is a tragic fate that he shares 
with the neurotic, who suffers from the same inner conflict. An- 
other way out of the struggle is to divide its elements between two 
persons, of whom one belongs to the ideological creative sphere, 
and the other to the sphere of actual life. But this solution also 
presents difficulties of a psychological as well as a social order, 
because this type of artist has a fundamental craving for totality, 
in life as in work, and the inner conflict, though it may be tem- 
porarily eased by being objectivized in such an outward division of 
roles, is as a whole only intensified thereby. 

The same applies to another solution of this ego conflict which 
the artist has in common with the neurotic, and one which shows 
more clearly even than the complicated love conflict that it is at 
bottom a question not of sexual but of creative problems. From 
the study of a certain class of neurotic we have found that in many 
cases of apparent homosexual conflicts it is less a sexual perver- 
sion than an ego problem that underlies them, a problem with 
which the individual can only deal by personifying a portion of 
his own ego in another individual. The same applies, it is true, to 


heterosexual love relations, from which the homosexual differs only 
in that the selfward part of this relation is stronger, or at any 
rate more distinct. If the poet values his Muse the more highly in 
proportion as it can be identified with his artistic personality and 
its ideology, then self-evidently he will find his truest ideal in an 
even greater degree in his own sex, which is in any case physically 
and intellectually closer to him. Paradoxical as it may sound, the 
apparently homosexual tendencies or actual relationships of cer- 
tain artists fulfill the craving for a Muse which will stimulate and 
justify creative work in a higher degree than (for a man) a woman 
can do. It is only as the result of the artist's urge for completion, 
and his desire to find everything united in one person, that it is 
mostly a woman that is taken as, or made into, a Muse, although 
instances of homosexual relations between artists are by no means 

Greece, in particular, with its high development of purely in- 
tellectual ideologies in art and philosophy, was of course the classi- 
cal country of boy love; and there is nothing contradictory in this, 
particularly if we understand the boy friendship in the Greek 
spirit. 12 For it was in the main, or at least collaterally, a high spir- 
itual relation which had as its basis and object a "pedagogic" train- 
ing for the boy. The master — whether philosopher or sculptor, or, 
in other words, artist in living or in shaping — was not content to 
teach his pupil or protege his doctrines or his knowledge: he had 
the true artistic impulse to transform him into his own image, to 
create. And this, by the way, was the form of personal immortality 
characteristic of Greek culture at its height, which not only found 
expression in works of art or spiritual teaching, but sought fulfill- 
ment in a personal, concrete successor. This successor was no 
longer (or not yet, if we think of Rome) the physical son, but the 
like-minded pupil. This is why the spiritual relation of pupil-and- 
master — which Christianity was to set up again as the center of its 
doctrine of life — has remained a more important thing to the crea- 
tive artist than the juridical father- and-son relation which psycho- 
analysis seeks to regard as fundamental, whereas it is spiritually of 
a secondary order. And in Greece, therefore, the state of being 
a pupil did not mean the mere acquiring of a certain discipline 

Life and Creation 321 

and the mastery of a certain material knowledge, as in the civiliza- 
tion of father right, but the forming of a personality — which be- 
gins by identification with the master and is then "artistically" 
developed and perfected on the pupil's own lines. In this sense the 
Greek was creative before he arrived at creating works of art, or, 
indeed, without ever shaping anything but himself and his pupil. 
Socrates is the best known of many examples of this. 

This educative ideology of the artistic Greek nation, which is 
manifested also in boy love in all its aspects, brings up the ques- 
tion: did that Greek art, which may seem to us today the main 
achievement of the Greek civilization, perhaps represent to the 
Greek a mere by-product thereof, an auxiliary, in fact, to the edu- 
cation of the men, who as the real vessels of the culture were thus 
enabled inter alia to practice art for its own sake? This brings us 
to another question: was not every great art, whether of primitive 
or cultivated peoples, bound up with some such cultured task, 
which lies beyond the bounds of aesthetics, but also beyond all 
individual artist psychology? In any case, there are numerous liter- 
ary proofs of the high degree to which the Greeks were conscious 
of this national importance of their art. They said that men should 
learn from works of art and try themselves to become as beautiful 
and perfect as the statues around them. This gives us an insight 
into the characteristic way in which the Greeks extended their own 
creation of individual personalities to include a whole nation, which 
was not content to produce works of art for their own sake but 
strove to create an artistic human type who would also be able 
to produce fine works of art. Seen in this light, boy love, which,; 
as Plato tells us, aimed perpetually at the improvement and per- 
fection of the beloved youth, appears definitely as the Classical 
counterpart of the primitive body art on a spiritualized plane. 
In the primitive stage it is a matter of physical self-enhancement; 
in the civilized stage, a spiritual perfecting in the other person, 
who becomes transferred into the worthy successor of oneself 
here on earth; and that, not on the basis of the biological procrea- 
tion of one's body, but in the sense of the spiritual immortality 
symbolism in the pupil, the younger. 

Christianity took over this ideal of personal character forma- 


tion in the symbol of the Exemplar Master, but, in proportion 
as it became a world-wide religion of the masses, it was unable to 
carry it out at the personal level. The collective immortality dogma, 
which became symbolized in Christ, relieved the individual of this 
task of personal self -creation; Christ instead was no longer a 
model, but became a victim who took upon himself voluntarily 
the development of everyone's personality. Correspondingly, Chris- 
tian art remained stationary in the abstract collective style of the 
religious ideology, until in the Renaissance it was freed by the 
emergence of a new type of personality. It was not mere imitation 
of Classical Greece, but the expression of a similar ideology of 
personality that led the artists of the Renaissance to try to re- 
experience the Greek ideal of boy love. We see, for instance, two 
of the really great artists, of entirely different social environment, 
expressing the identical spiritual ideology, with such far-reaching 
similarity that the notion that the mere accident of a personal 
experience produced both cases must be dismissed. They both, 
Michelangelo and Shakspeare, found almost identical words in 
their famous sonnets for the noble love which each of them felt 
for a beautiful youth who was his friend. Michelangelo's case 
is the simpler in that we at least think we know to whom his 
sonnets were addressed, although it might equally well be the 
short-lived Ceccino Bracchi or Tommaso de Cavalieri, the object 
of a lifelong adoration. It is not even clear in some of his later 
sonnets whether his "idol" refers to his young friend or to Vittoria 
Colonna, whose platonic friendship came later. The content of 
Shakspeare's sonnets is a far more complicated matter. His ideal 
has been sought among the widely differing persons among the 
aristocracy of his day. His adoring friendship for the youth in 
question was not, as with Michelangelo, followed by a soothing 
maternal friendship, but was broken in upon by a young and 
beautiful woman. Here, as in his dramas also, woman figures as 
an evil, disturbing daemon that the Elizabethan dramatist never suc- 
ceeded in transforming into a helpful Muse, but always felt to be 
an obstacle to creative work; whereas in his young friend he found 
the ideal which spurred him on and aided him. But whatever the 
decision reached by zealous scholars concerning the identity of the 

Life and Creation 323 

person addressed in his immortal sonnets, this "biographical" fact 
seems to me unimportant as compared with the psychological evi- 
dence that this glorification of a friend is, fundamentally, self- 
glorification just as was the Greek boy-love. In this sense, not only 
are the sonnets in fact self-dedicated — as is creative work of every 
description — but they reveal that peculiar attitude of the creative 
instinct toward the creative ego which seeks to glorify it by artistic 
idealization and at the same time to overcome its mortality by 
eternalizing it in art. 

The fact that an idealized self-glorification in the person of 
another can take on physical forms, as in the Greek boy-love, has 
actually nothing to do with the sex of the beloved, but is concerned 
only with the struggle to develop a personality and the impulse to 
create which arises from it. This impulse is at bottom directed to 
the creator's own rebirth in the closest possible likeness, which is 
naturally more readily found in his own sex; the other sex is felt 
to be biologically a disturbing element except where it can be 
idealized as a Muse. But the likeness to himself will not only be 
found in the bodily form of his own sex, but also be built up with 
regard to the spiritual affinity, and in this regard the youthfulness 
of the beloved stands for the bodily symbol of immortality. In this 
manner does the mature man, whose impulse to perpetuate himself 
drives him away from the biological sex life, live his own life over 
again in his youthful love; not only seeking to transform him into 
his intellectual counterpart, but making him his spiritual ideal, the 
symbol of his vanishing youth. The sonnets of both the Renaissance 
artists are full of such laments over the vanishing youth of the 
beloved, whose glorious picture it is the duty of the poem to pre- 
serve to all eternity. Just as we know, from the psychology of the 
creative genius, that his impulse to create arises from precisely 
this tendency to immortalize himself in his work, so we can be in 
no doubt as to whose transitoriness it is that the poet deplores 
with almost monotonous reiteration. In these sonnets there is so 
complete a revelation of the meaning and content of the whole 
output of their authors, and indeed of the nature of the artist's 
creative instinct in general, that their high valuation and, no less, 
their intriguing ambiguity, become comprehensible. Yet they are 


easy to understand if we regard them as the subjective completion 
of their author's objective creations, for in their naive self-projec- 
tion they admit their own transitoriness to be the reason for their 
own perpetuation in poetry. 

From this point of view, then, the biographical presentation, 
even when it can be done with certainty, seems to us inessential. 
We are by no means cast down when this method fails, for we 
can understand that beyond a certain point failure is unavoid- 
able, since the creation of a work of art cannot be explained even 
by the reconstruction of an inspirer. Thus the factual and concrete 
biography of Michelangelo or Shakspeare does not enable us to 
understand their work the better; rather we are left more amazed 
than before at their coincidence. Vasari, anyhow, declares that the 
one and only portrait by Michelangelo which was true to nature 
was that of his young friend Tommaso Cavalieri, "for he detested 
copying the actual appearance of anyone who was not completely 
beautiful." The same ideal fashion in which he immortalizes the 
beloved in poetry corresponds exactly with Shakspeare's attitude 
to his ideal. For the English poet also has the conscious intention 
of immortalizing his friend's beauty at least in his verse, if time 
is bound to destroy his bodiliness. This is the constantly reiterated 
theme in the Shakspeare sonnets, and Michelangelo had the same 
feeling in the presence of the beloved youth: that his beauty should 
be incorporated into eternity. Not only is it evident from this self- 
immortalization in the work that the matter is at bottom one of self- 
immortalization expressed in another (in the ideal) but both these 
artists have expressed with great clearness, and to the point of 
monotony, the idea of oneness with the friend. Shakspeare says: 

What can mine own praise to mine own self bring? 
And what is't but mine own when I praise thee? 

(Sonnet XXXIX); and Michelangelo in one of his sonnets not 
only says that a lover "transforms himself" into the beloved, but 
in a letter presses this transformation of the beloved into his own 
image, so far as to call his friend Tommaso "a genius who is a 
stranger in this world." 13 

This psychological solution of the much-disputed sonnet prob- 

Life and Creation 325 

lem shows how experience, and still more the whole attitude to- 
ward life, grows out of the struggle to create and so reduces the 
problem of experience to the problem of creativity. For the extent 
to which the the artist succeeds in actualizing his love ideal, in the 
service of his own self-immortalization, is of minor importance 
compared with the basic attitude that his work discloses — namely, 
one originating in dissatisfaction with artistic creation and so urg- 
ing the creator in some form or other toward life — that is, toward 
the actual experiencing of his fundamental self. In any case his 
impulse to form man in his own image or in the image of his ideal 
inevitably brings him into conflict with real life and its conditions. 
These conditions are not artistic, but social, conditions, in which 
one individual has to respect another and is not permitted to re- 
make him. Now, a certain measure of conflict is, of course, necessary 
to creative work, and this conflict is, in fact, one of the fields in 
which an artist displays his greatness, or, psychologically speak- 
ing, the strength of his creative will power. By means of it he is 
able to work off a certain measure of his inner conflict in his art 
without entirely sacrificing the realities of life or coming into 
factual conflict with them. In any case, the destructive results of 
this ensemble of realities upon the neurotic, as we are able to 
observe them in his neurosis, show that what distinguishes him 
from the artist is that the latter constructively applies his will 
power in the service of ideological creation. A certain type of 
artist, for whom Goethe may stand as the model, will learn to deal 
with his experiences and conflicts economically and in the end 
wisely, while another type exhausts his strength in chasing after 
stimulating experiences so that his conflict does not come out in 
production. For the artist himself the fact that he creates is more 
immediately important than what he produces, although we are 
inclined to make his classification as a particular type depend 
upon the result, his artwork. Here again we find ourselves at a 
point where art as the result of production must be sharply differ- 
entiated from the artist as a creative individual. There is, in fact, 
no norm for the artist as a type, although we are constantly 
tempted to set up more or less precisely formulated norms both 
for art and for the individual work of art. Production is a vital 


process which happens within the individual and is independent 
at the outset from the ideology manifested in the created work. 
On the other hand, the work can show an equal independence 
toward the artist who has created it, and can in favorable in- 
stances be compared with other works within the categories of 
art; but it can never be compared with its author or with the artist 
as a psychological type. Between the two — artist and art — there 
stands Life, now dividing, now uniting, now checking, now pro- 

Here we must return once more to the relation of the artist 
to woman (or to the opposite sex). In the life of many an artist 
this is a disturbing factor, one of the deepest sources of conflict, 
indeed, when it tends to force or beguile him into closer touch 
with life than is necessary or even advantageous to his produc- 
tion. To make a woman his Muse, or to name her as such, there- 
fore, often amounts to transforming a hindrance into a helper — 
a compromise which is usually in the interest of productiveness, 
but renders no service to life. Here, again, everything naturally 
depends on the artist's dynamic type and his specific conflict over 
life and production. There are artists for whom even a feminine 
Muse represents nothing but a potential homosexual relation; for 
they see in her not so much the woman as a comrade of like 
outlook and like aims, who could equally well — and possibly bet- 
ter — be replaced by a male friendship. On the other hand, there 
is an artist type which is totally unable to produce at all without 
the biological complement of the other sex and indeed depends 
directly on the sexual life for its stimulus. For the type which is 
creative in and by means of sexual abstinence has its opposite in 
another type which, strange to say, is not only not exhausted by 
the sexual act but is definitely stimulated to create thereby. Schulte- 
Vaerting has described this type as the "sexual superman," but it 
seems to me rather that here too some hidden mechanism of flee- 
ing from life is involved, which impels the artist from biological 
mortality to individual immortality in production after he has paid 
his tribute to sexuality. 

This leads us to the profoundest source of the artistic impulse 
to create, which I can only satisfactorily explain to myself as the 

Life and Creation 327 

struggle of the individual against an inherent striving after totality, 
which forces him equally in the direction of a complete surrender 
to life and a complete giving of himself in production. He has to 
save himself from this totality by fleeing, now from the Scylla of 
life, now from the Charybdis of creation, and his escape is nat- 
urally accomplished only at the cost of continual conflict, both 
between these two spheres and within each of them separately. 
How this conflict and the triumph over it is manifested in creative 
working I seek to show elsewhere. For the moment we are dealing 
only with manifestations and attempted solutions within the sphere 
of life, irrespective of whether these are concerned with persons 
of the same or of the opposite sex. In every case the artist's rela- 
tion to woman has more of an ideological than of a sexual signifi- 
cance, as Emil Lenk has demonstrated in a study on creative per- 
sonalities (Das Liebesleben des Genies, 1926). Usually, however, 
he needs two women, or several, for the different parts of his 
conflict, and accordingly he falls into psychological dilemmas, even 
if he evades the social difficulties. He undoubtedly loves both 
these persons in different ways, but is usually not clear as to the 
part they play, even if — as would appear to be the rule — he does 
not actually confuse them one with the other. Because the Muse 
means more to him artistically, he thinks he loves her the more. 
This is seldom the case in fact, and moreover it is psychologically 
impossible. For the other woman, whom, from purely human or 
other motives, he perhaps loves more, he often enough cannot 
set up as his Muse for this very reason: that she would thereby 
become in a sense de-feminized and, as it were, made into an 
object (in the egocentric sense) of friendship. To the Muse for 
whom he creates (or thinks he creates), the artist seldom gives 
himself; he pays with his work, and this the truly womanly woman 
often refuses to accept. But if his relation takes a homosexual 
form, this giving is still more obviously a giving to himself; that 
is, the artistic form of giving through production instead of sur- 
rendering the personal ego. 

True, from the standpoint of the ego, the homosexual relation 
is an idealizing of oneself in the person of another, but at the 
same time it is felt as a humiliation; and this is not so much the 


cause as the actual expression of internal conflicts. For, in the 
dynamism which leads him to create, the artist suffers from a 
struggle between his higher and his lower self which manifests 
itself equally in all the spheres and utterances of his life and also 
characterizes his attitude to woman. She can be for him at once 
the symbol of the highest and the lowest, of the mortal and the 
immortal soul, of life or of death. The same applies too, as we 
shall see, to the work itself or to creation, for which the artist is 
prepared to sacrifice everything, but which, in the hour of dis- 
appointment and dejection, he frequently damns and curses. There 
is in the artist that fundamental dualism from which we all suffer, 
intensified in him to a point which drives him with dynamic com- 
pulsion from creative work to life, and from life back to new and 
other creativity. According to the artist's personal structure and 
spiritual ideology, this conflict will take the form of a struggle 
between good and evil, beauty and truth, or, in a more neurotic 
way, between the higher and the lower self. It is a struggle which, 
as we shall presently see, determines the cultural genetic start and 
development of the creative instinct itself. In the personal con- 
flicts of the individual artist the fundamental dualism which orig- 
inally led to cultural development and artistic creation persists in 
all its old strength. It cannot, however, be reconstructed and un- 
derstood as a matter of individual psychology from an analysis 
of the artist's personal past, because the modern individual not 
only comes into the world with humanity's fundamental dualism, 
but is also potentially charged with all the attempts to solve it, 
so that his personal development no longer provides any parallels 
with the development of the race. 

For if we inquire into the relation between work and produc- 
tion in the artist, we must bear in mind that there are two kinds 
of experience, just as there are at least two ways of artistic pro- 
duction. Whereas in preanalytical biography it was chiefly the 
artist's later and proportionately more active experience that was 
brought into relation with his creativeness, psychoanalysis, with 
its emphasis on the decisive importance of infantile impressions, 
brought this more passive stage of experience into the foreground. 
This conception got no further, however, than the banal statement 

Life and Creation 329 

that even the artist was not immune from those typical experiences 
of childhood which one had come up against in analyzing the 
adult. Just as Freud saw the cause of neurosis in these typical 
childhood experiences themselves and not in the individual's par- 
ticular reaction to them, so did his school claim to see in those 
same childhood impressions the experiences which led to artistic 
creativity, though without being able to explain the difference be- 
tween one outcome of them and another. An inexplicable "re- 
mainder" had therefore to be admitted, but this remainder em- 
braced no more and no less than the whole problem of artistic 
creativity. Beyond this statement analytical psychography has to 
this day not progressed, as the latest comprehensive publication 
in this province shows. 14 And although the Oedipus complex, and 
the sexual problem of the child that is bound up with it, still forms 
the center, this is rather the sign of a fatal stoppage than a proof 
of the superlative importance of this family problem. The whole 
of analytical pathography has battened for more than a quarter of 
a century on the Oedipus problem, which was first applied to 
artistic creation by Freud (in his Interpretation of Dreams), with- 
out, however, reaching even the point at which I came out when 
I published my book: Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage 
(1912, planned in 1905), to which I gave the subtitle: Grundzuge 
einer Psychologie des dichterischen Schaffens. 

In this book, as already mentioned, the Oedipus problem is 
treated mainly as a motive and only in a minor degree as an indi- 
vidual complex; hence its ideological significance was considered as 
well as its psychological. Although, under the spell of the Freudian 
idea, I gave pride of place to the individual as against the collective 
psychology (which I have since learned to appreciate as "ideol- 
ogy," 15 ) yet with respect to the latter, too, I certainly did not steer 
clear of psychological premises in dealing with this collective mo- 
tive which we find in myth and saga before the poets made a theme 
of it. But, be this as it may, the book has even now not been super- 
seded; indeed, analytical art criticism has not yet put itself in face 
of its problems — to which I must at this point return. That the poets 
struggled so intensely with the Oedipus complex was regarded at 
the time as a proof of its ubiquity, and so it actually was so far as 


concerned individual psychology. But from the standpoint of the 
psychology of artistic production, the poets' wrestling with the 
Oedipus experience seems to me to mean something essentially dif- 
ferent: namely, that the artist reacts more strongly than, and cer- 
tainly in a different way from, the normal person to this unavoidable 
average experience of the parental relation. This is not, however, 
because of the experience, but because of his peculiar reactivity, 
which in the case of artistic expression we call "creative." Now, 
from the comparison that I drew in my generalized formulation of 
"the artist" (also in 1905) between artist and neurotic, it results 
that the latter also reacts differently from the average person to 
these and similar experiences. Only, this distinctive reaction does 
not, with him, lead to production, but to inhibition or to fixation. 
The artistic reaction is thus distinguishable from the neurotic by an 
overcoming of the trauma or of the potentiality of inhibition result- 
ing therefrom, no matter whether this is achieved by a single effort 
or is spread over the whole lifework. This overcoming, however (so 
far as my researches have taken me), is only possible — or at any 
rate only psychologically explicable — in one way, and this, as we 
have learned from the therapy which helps to overcome these 
development inhibitions, is through volitional affirmation of the ob- 
ligatory, which in every case not only works usefully, but is also 
definitely creative. Applied to the special case of the Oedipus con- 
flict, it appears to me today that it is the willed affirmation of the 
inhibitive family ties that is the creative and at the same time liber- 
ating factor. But this affirmation of the given, which in relation to 
family symbols manifests itself as erotic desire (toward mother and 
sister) and thirst for battle (with father or brother), corresponds 
on the one hand to creative appropriation and on the other to a 
constructive victory over it. < 

And with this we are back again at the fundamental process of 
artistic production, which consists in just this deliberate appropria- 
tion of that which happens and is given (including passive experi- 
ences) in the form of individual new creation. The Oedipus complex 
forms one of the cultural symbols of this conflict because it synthe- 
sizes the biological, psychological, and characterological sides of it. 
But, even so, it only symbolizes — even in the case of a child, for 

Life and Creation 331 

whom the Oedipus complex is already the expression of an inner 
experience and not merely adaptation to an outward destiny. It even 
seems to me as if the Oedipus myth itself, if taken in the Greek 
spirit, 16 were an experience of this same striving for independence 
in human development: namely, the deliberate affirmation of the 
existence forced on us by fate. That which is dimly but unequivo- 
cally preordained for the hero by his birth, in the mythical account, 
he deliberately makes his own by embodying it in action and ex- 
perience. This experience is a creative experience, for it serves to 
create the myth itself, and the sagas, poems, and tragedies based on 
it, whose various representations of the one theme are determined 
by the collective ideological outlook of the moment and the inter- 
pretation appropriate thereto. But the life of the individual hero 
himself will inevitably be destroyed, whether this human destiny be 
interpreted in terms of heroism, fatalism, or tragedy. 

1 Das Inzest-Motiv in Dichtung und Sage (chap. Ill, XVI). I found the 
same conception later in Simmel's Goethe. 

2 This applies not only to most artists, but also, as Wilhelm Ostwald for 
one has convincingly proved, to the scientific creative type (Grosse Manner). 

3 A characteristic instance of how, in avoiding the Scylla of Lombroso, 
one may fall a victim to the Charybdis of analytical psychology is afforded 
by Victor Jonesco's book: La Personnalite clu genie artiste, which I read 
only after the completion of my own work. A praiseworthy exception is 
Bernard Grasset's original essay: Psychologie de I'immortalite. 

4 How this feeling of guilt can hinder or, on the other hand, further pro- 
ductivity I have shown in my book: Wahrheit und Wirklichkeit (1929) in 
the section on the sense of guilt in creation. 

5 E. von Sydow distinguishes these polar opposites, from the standpoint of 
aesthetic, as "eros-dominated" and "eros-dominating." 

6 Seelenglaube und Psychologie (1930). 

7 What interests us today in Byron, for instance, is his romantic life, and 
not his out-of-date poetry. 

8 See W. Dilthey's book, Erlebnis und Dichtung. The artist personalities 
examined there in relation to this problem are, as is natural, chiefly romantic 
types (Lessing, Goethe, Novalis, Holderlin). 

9 This is a point of view which I endeavored to present in my last techni- 
cal work: Die Analyse des Analytikers und seine Rolle in der Gesamtsitua- 
tion (1931). 

10 These types, evolved from a study of psychological dynamics (see my 
Die Analyse des Analytikers), are, as I have since discovered, accepted as 
the essential key concepts of all polar contrasts of style by P. Frankl in his 
Entwicklungsphasen der neuren Baukunst. True, Frankl's work is not lim- 


ited merely to architecture, but more narrowly still to the contrast in style 
between Renaissance and Baroque. We shall presently see, however ("Schon- 
heit und Wahrheit"), that this contrast between totality and partiality is a 
general spiritual distinction between the Classical-naturalistic and the primi- 
tive-abstract styles. 

11 Shakespeare's Hamlet and Mozart's Don Juan are familiar examples of 
the reaction after a father's death, while Wagner's Lohengrin followed on 
the death of the composer's mother. These works are supreme examples of 
artists negotiating with the problem of the Beyond. To these instances may 
be added Ibsen's epilogue When We Dead Awaken; here the death is that of 
the artist himself. 

12 See my account in Modern Education (1932), pp. 24-26. 

13 The references are taken from Emil Lucka's book on Michelangelo 

14 Die psychoanalytische Bewegung, Vol. II, No. 4 (July-August 1930) 
(also contains a bibliography of psychoanalytical biography). In his intro- 
duction Dr. E. Hitschmann describes my book on the Incest-Motiv as fun- 
damental for the analytical survey of art and the understanding of artistic 

15 Seelenglaube und Psychologie (1930). 

18 See my explanations in Die analytische Reaktion (1929), pp. 68 ff., and 
also in Modern Education, chapter VII. 

Geza Roheim 

Myth and Folk Tale 

A psychological explanation of myth and folk 
tale must start out with a definition and the difficulty that arises 
here is that the theory should not be implicit in the definition. There- 
fore the safe way would be to differentiate what is generally known 
as a myth from what is generally known as a folk tale. 

In a myth the actors are mostly divine and sometimes human. In 
a folk tale the dramatis personae are mostly human and especially 
the hero is human frequently with supernatural beings as his oppo- 
nents. In a myth we have definite locality; in a folk tale the actors 
are nameless, the scene is just anywhere. A myth is part of a creed; 
it is believed by the narrator. The folk tale is purely fiction, and not 
intended to be anything else. According to a method of interpre- 
tation which is now (luckily) extinct, a myth always deals with 
natural phenomena, while according to another view which had ad- 
vocates among the anthropologists of the previous generation and 
also has many influential representatives today, a myth is always 
connected with a ritual. In these views we have the elements of a 
theory and they go beyond what we should call a definition. Wundt 
and von der Leyen thought that the myth and the "Marchen" which 



are so similar to each other in certain ways and yet so different 
must have had one common origin, a type of narrative from which 
both have developed in the course of evolution (Mythen-marchen). 

I have collected myths and folk tales in many areas and if I just 
make a hasty mental survey of my own collections I find that in 
some areas a clear line of distinction runs between the two while in 
others matters seem to be more confused. Now considering the 
magnitude of the task and the avowedly preliminary nature of this 
effort I will make matters easy for myself and consider the situation 
only in central Australia. Here we have a very clear distinction be- 
tween a folk tale and a mythological narrative so that at least our 
starting point seems secure. 

Before I went out to the field very little was known about folk 
tales in central Australia. The narratives recorded by Spencer and 
Gillen and Strehlow were pure myths and more than that they were 
esoteric myths, that is they were known only to the initiated. I won- 
dered whether women and children had no narratives of their own; 
it did not seem probable to me that this type of sublimation should 
be absent. I never found it by looking for it; I found it by pure 
chance. One of the old women who used to come and tell me her 
dreams launched out into a long narrative that did not sound like a 
dream at all. "Did you really dream this?" I asked her. No, this is 
not something she dreamed last night, it is an old altjira (dream). 
Then I found out that the Aranda word Altjira meant both dream 
and folk tale. In the western (Luritja) dialects the situation is the 
same, tukurpa means myth and folk tale. 

Once I knew what to ask for, there was no difficulty in collecting 
more than a hundred folk tales from this area. The interesting thing 
in these folk tales is that they are of a type that is utterly unknown 
from any other primitive area. Primitive folk tales, including other 
narratives of this type from Australia, are more varied than my col- 
lection. Many of them are on the fines familiar to students of folk- 
lore from Danhardt's Naturmarchen. They are explanatory narra- 
tives which end up with some peculiarity of an animal species or 
some phenomenon in nature. Therefore they are hardly "Marchen" 
at all in our sense of the word, because the ending indicates a cer- 
tain claim to be believed, attempt at connecting the fable with reality. 

Myth and Folk Tale 335 

My collection is quite different. They are variations of one con- 
stant theme; the struggle of human beings against the demons. The 
hero of a story is always an indatoa (L. kuninjatu) which translated 
literally means a good-looking man. The heroine is a tneera (L. 
aneera), i. e. a beauty. In a sense it does not really mean beautiful, 
it is just normal healthy, not monstrous. On the other hand, how- 
ever, sometimes it is stressed that the indatoa is really a beautiful 
man, big and strong, with fair skin and fair hair and he is a skilled 
hunter. His wife the tneera is fair and beautiful like her husband. 
Some of the full-blooded natives actually have fair hair (Aranda 
ilpirtja or aralkara, Alice Springs). 

As antagonists we have the nanananas, and bankalangas. They 
are hairy giants with big penises and testicles with some of the char- 
acteristics of the "stupid devils" of European folklore. The females 
of the species have big breasts and genitals, sometimes they are 
superhuman in size. Besides these two opposing groups there is a 
third actor on the scene, the malpakara, who seems to be halfway 
between the hero and the villain of the melodrama. The malpakara 
is always a young man with an unbridled craving for intercourse. 
This is about the only thing he can do, but the folk tales give hyper- 
bolistic description of his sexual prowess. He will go on having inter- 
course for several days and nights or he will push a woman along 
with his penis inserted into her vagina. Moreover the malpakara is 
always represented as thin, ugly and a very poor hunter. After his 
initiation he becomes a real human being, a kuninjatu. 

The kulaia (L. muruntu), a fabulous serpent — who rises out of 
the water holes right up to the sky in a whirlwind and swallows 
people, may be on either side; he may appear in the role of a demon 
or of a normal human being who has been transformed into a ser- 
pent by evil magic. 

But the most outstanding feature of all these narratives is canni- 
balism. The war between human beings and ogres is being waged 
with equal ruthlessness on both sides but whereas the ogres always 
eat the indatoas, human beings never retaliate in kind. Neither do 
they bury the body of the ogre or put it up on a kind of scaffold 
which would be the two ways these tribes have of disposing of their 
dead. The ogre is always burnt at the end and the human beings 


are always victorious. Besides cannibalism the other outstanding 
feature of these narratives is the happy end. 

The story starts with a sentence like this: 

"An indatoa lived with a tneera," or "an old man lived with his 
grandson," and ends with the formula "then they came to a big 
camp and lived there forever." It is quite striking that while most 
primitive folk tales have no such beginning and end formulas, the 
beginning and the end of an Australian folk tale finds its closest 
parallels in Europe — "Once upon a time," and "They lived happily 
ever afterwards." The other striking analogy with European Mar- 
chen is the transformation motive in its particular setting. Just as in 
the European folk tale the animal metamorphosis of the hero is fre- 
quently the result of a curse of an injured person; there the serpent 
form is due to the evil magic of a man whose wife the other man 
has captured. 

When taken in conjunction with another feature of these folk 
tales, their peculiar and sometimes even weird archaism and sav- 
agery, one is certainly tempted to believe that here "our plummets 
have touched bottom" and that we have here actually a type of nar- 
rative which is the forerunner of folk tales. In order to show what I 
mean by the weird character of these narratives I had better give 
one or two examples. 

"Two bankalangas came on from the west. One came on the top 
of the hill, the other on the plain. The one of the plain saw a kunin- 
jatu with his wife eating a kangaroo. He threw a stone as a sign to 
the other bankalanga and then he came down from the hill. The 
two bankalangas sneaked up and one of them speared the kunin- 
jatu right through the ribs. The woman ran away. The second ban- 
kalanga threw a stick at her neck and killed her. Then he ran up to 
her and tried to put his fingers into her vagina to pull the young 
ones out as if she were a kangaroo. First they ate the kangaroo, 
then the man, and then the woman. They kept repeating this. They 
opened the vulva wide to pull the young ones out, putting their arm 
in. Finally one of the women managed to get away and went to a 
big camp whence she brought many kuninjatus. The bankalangas 
put charcoal on * and they came up. The kuninjatus encircled them, 
then they all got up and speared them. They burnt all the bodies 

Myth and Folk Tale 337 

and went back to a big camp where they kutunyinanyi" (stayed 

In another case we find the same "savagery" in the sexual sphere. 
"Two thin malpakara boys came from the west. They found that a 
wild dog had killed a kangaroo and they picked the half rotten 
corpse up and ate it. Then they find a fresh kangaroo killed by a 
wild dog and eat that. They miss every kangaroo they try to spear 
and the next time all they can get is a kangaroo skin left by the dog 
which they cooked and ate. One of them had an erection, the penis 
was like an arm and moved up and down. They keep commenting 
on the size of each other's penis. One of them puts his perns into the 
other one's anus and that is how they walk along. Finally they came 
to a camp where a kuninjatu lived with his wife. The man exchanged 
meat with them and they were friends. But when the man left his 
wife behind to get seeds the two malpakara caught her mbanja fash- 
ion. 2 She resisted in a crouched position. They had intercourse with 
her, ejaculating on every part of her body including the anus ex- 
cepting only the vagina. One of them stands on guard to kill the 
returning husband. But both miss him and he kills them. Then the 
woman whose whole body was dripping with semen got up, wiped 
herself with grass and they burnt the bodies and kutu nyinanyi." 
(Abbreviated version.) 

Our Central Australians are "savage" enough from a European 
point of view but the folk tales are far more so. There is less native 
culture in them, some institutions like the marriage classes are com- 
pletely absent, others like totemism barely mentioned. And there is 
more "savagery," more sadism, more unbridled lust and aggression. 
Perhaps they actually reflect a phase of culture that is more primi- 
tive than that of the Central Australians as we find them today. 
Some of the customs described by D. Bates certainly give me the 
impression of a society far more savage than any I have known 
among the Aranda or Yumu or Pitjentara. 3 I have heard nothing 
like her account of the Koogurda who hunted and ate kangaroo and 
emu and human flesh on much the same level, or the Kaalurwonga 
who pursued fat men, women and girls and ate them. Or the account 
of Dowie who was given four baby sisters to eat and was rubbed 
over with their fat to make him grow big and strong. He hated his 


mother Bildana and his other mothers and his sisters and his broth- 
ers. He would have eaten them all but they were older than he was, 
and so they could not be given to him to eat. At the blood drinking 
he drank greedily and swallowed the big pieces of raw liver at initi- 
ation. He brought home many human bodies for he would stalk 
human game in murderer's slippers and he loved the flesh of man, 
woman and child. More than this even; he killed and ate his own 
four wives. 

Dowie is certainly behaving like the bankalangas and nanananas 
of our folk tales and one possible explanation of these narratives 
would therefore be historical. They represent the past of native civi- 
lization, social and cultural conditions that antedate those we find 
at the present time. Then we should also have to assume that they 
are accounts of warfare between two tribes, one of them cannibalistic 
(the bankalangas) and the other not cannibalistic. Since Central 
Australian tribes are actually in the habit of confusing their con- 
cepts of a demon with those of the neighboring tribe, since there is 
in their minds not much difference between the leltja (avenger, 
human being), the ltana (ghost), and the erintja (demon), such a 
theory would seem quite plausible. Yet, while admitting that some 
of the features of the folk tale in Central Australia might well be 
accounted for on these lines, there are some obvious difficulties. 
Why is the folk tale called a dream? Why does it usually end with 
marriage? What is the role of the malpakara, who becomes a nor- 
mal person after initiation? What is the explanation of the demons' 
huge genital organs? If the narrative is historical we should expect 
names and localities, especially the latter since we see that locality 
is such an important factor in their myths. 

I think we can account for these aspects of the story from a dif- 
ferent angle. The prevailing form of cannibalism in Central, South 
and Western Australia is "baby-eating." The Pitjentara eat every 
second child. The infant is knocked on the head by the father and 
then eaten by the mother and the siblings who are supposed to 
acquire double strength by this proceeding. With the Pindupi, 
Yumu, and Ngali the proceeding is more irregular; they seem to 
eat the babies whenever they are hungry and especially when the 
mother gets a strong craving to do so. They even go to the length 

Myth and Folk Tale 339 

of pulling the fetus out of the womb and eating it — which is ex- 
actly the practice ascribed to the demons in the story. 

The cannibal demons represent the cannibal parents. The Aus- 
tralian child has to face a peculiar difficulty in his attitude toward 
his parents, that is, in growing up. He has really loving parents who 
grant him nearly everything. His mother and the other mothers of 
the tribe never refuse their nipple, both parents are always ready to 
play with him and they rarely restrict even his aggression against 
their own person. Yet these same parents have eaten his siblings and 
therefore might have eaten him also. Now compare the motives of 
some of my folk tales to this situation. 

1. A manatatai (another name for the cannibal demon) steals a 
boy and takes him to his camp to be eaten. 

2. The father follows on the track and attacks the giants with his 
magic stick. 

3. The giants kill each other. Father and son go home. 

The paternal imago has undergone a fission. The kind loving 
father of everyday life is the one who protects and rescues his son 
while the cannibal father appears in the guise of the cannibal giant. 
The giants fighting against each other represents this ambivalence 
of the father imago. The next story shows this process of fission 
quite clearly. 

1. A boy lives with his grandfather who is half a demon. 

2. The grandfather has a mate in a cave who is a real demon. 

3. The old man and the boy hunt wallabies; the old man is 
always trying to entice the boy into the cave. 

4. He lights a fire at the entrance of the cave and kills both old 
men. The boy goes to another camp. 

A favorite trick of the demons in these stories again reminds us 
of European folklore. In European "Marchen" we find the episode 
in the following form. The hero meets an old witch whose jaws 
reach to the sky and who is otherwise as hideous as she can be. He 
says, "Good morning, grandmother," and the witch says, "It's lucky 
you called me grandmother, otherwise I would have killed you." In 
my Australian collection the male or female demon always poses 
as some relation of the unsuspecting human being in order to eat 
him afterwards. 


A bankalanga lived with his wife and with them lived a human 
(kuninjatu) child whom they had stolen. They had a big hut with a 
partition in it. The bankalanga slept on the partition and his wife 
and the child slept on the ground. The child thought he was alone 
in the hut with his mother because he never saw the bankalanga. 
She sent him out for rats and when he brought them in she passed 
them to her husband who was hidden behind the partition. One day 
the child said, "It is raining into the hut." But it was not rain; it 
was the bankalanga's urine. The old woman said, "Make a big fire 
and dry yourself." He did this but next day he could still smell the 
wet sand. "This is not water, it is urine," he says. He called the old 
woman to go hunting but he stayed at home and hid. Then he saw 
the male bankalanga coming out of the hut and going back again. 
He set fire to the hut and burnt it with the bankalanga in it and he 
went to the real people. When the old woman returned she found 
the husband dead and followed the boy's footsteps, weeping. The 
real people killed her too and burnt her with her husband. The boy 
was initiated and lived there always. 

The child transforms the "bad parents" into demons; he is not 
their child at all, they have stolen him from his real parents. In the 
beginning there is no such thing as a father, the world for the infant 
consists in himself and his mother. But father and mother are doing 
something mysterious in the hut and finally the father's presence 
becomes obvious and emotionally significant through his sexual ac- 
tivity (primal scene). The father's urine stands for his semen and we 
know that enuresis or in general urinating is an infantile form of 
rivalry with the father's sexual activity. 

Fire and water, as in this narrative, are exactly the most wide- 
spread symbols for urine; and if the bankalanga is regularly burnt, 
in the end this might well mean that the father conflict is here 
fought out on the urethral level. The end of the story is that the boy 
gets initiated or marries and lives happily ever afterwards. It is a 
young child's dream about growing up. 

In European folk lore, narratives about the trolls and ogres are 
fairly similar to these Australian folk tales about bankalanga and 
nananana. In the Norse story "The Blue Belt" a lad and his mother 
come to the house of the troll. She pretends to be afraid of the troll 

Myth and Folk Tale 341 

and is reluctant to enter the house but he goes right in and says to 
the giant, "Good evening, grandfather." "Well, here I have sat three 
hundred years and no one has ever called me grandfather before." 
After supper the giant says, "As for beds, I don't know what's to 
be done. I have only got one bed and a cradle, but we could get on 
pretty well if you would sleep in the cradle and then your mother 
might lie in the bed yonder." 

So now the hero is in the cradle. He pretends to be asleep but he 
is listening to what the troll is talking with his mother — who, al- 
though the story in its present form does not say so, are evidently 
in bed together. "We two might live here so happily together could 
we only be rid of this son of yours." The rest of the narrative with 
the "treacherous mother" motive, the castration symbolism, and its 
ultimate happy end does not concern us. 

Here the point is that the troll is obviously the father as a stranger 
and enemy, that the hero is in the cradle and that he is witnessing 
the primal scene. In this primal scene situation the mother is be- 
traying the son for the father's sake. Very frequently however we 
have the opposite formula. The technical term for this role of the 
mother is "Hilfsalte," the helpful old woman. The devil's mother or 
wife plays this role in the folk tale called "The Devil's Three Golden 

The hero has to get three golden hairs from the devil, the sun, or 
a dragon. The ogre's wife hides him under the bed; the devil when 
he comes home wants to eat him. Now comes the scene about the 
dialogue between the two supernaturals (devil and wife) and the 
eavesdropping of the child hero. The latter wants not only the three 
golden hairs, but also the answer to certain questions. These ques- 
tions are: why can't the princess be delivered of her child? why has 
the water ceased to flow in the well? why has the tree ceased to 
bear apples? etc., and the answer is that a toad, or snake, or a corpse 
is buried there and has to be taken out, then the water will flow 
again, the tree will bear fruit again, etc. 4 It is clear that the toad 
and the other hidden live things symbolize the embryo in the womb 
and that the scene is a combination of body-destruction phantasies 
and retaliation (take the child out of the womb and eat it — be eaten 


by father) and castration, anxiety (hair torn out, "eaten" as in the 
case of the wolf -boy). 

After overcoming all the anxieties connected with the process of 
growing up the narrative ends with the hero's marriage. "Jack and 
his mother became very rich and he married a great princess and 
they lived happy ever after." "Then the Princess married him and 
all went wondrously well." A striking confirmation of this theory, 
that the hero of the folk tale is a young boy, comes from an un- 
expected angle. Hero and heroine are fair-haired. Now fair hair 
actually occurs among pure-blooded aboriginals, but as Professor 
Ashley Montagu tells me, only as a juvenile trait which disappears 
in adult age. From my own memory I can confirm this. 

Now something about the myth again from a Central Australian 
point of view. The mythical heroes have definite names and their 
wanderings take place in definite localities. Indeed the myth is mainly 
concerned with explaining these localities, it is definitely trying to 
link up phantasy and reality. The map is marked by ceremonies 
and the rites of the present day are merely repetitions of the rites 
celebrated by the primeval ancestors. 

All these rites form a part of the initiation ritual and the ances- 
tors seem to have nothing else to do than to initiate their young 
men. But the story is not about the young people, not about the 
initiated but about the initiators. The difference in the final sentence 
is significant. In the folk tale it is the Central Australian equivalent 
of "they were married and lived happily ever afterwards." In the 
myth it is borkerake tjurungeraka: he was tired and became trans- 
formed into a tjurunga, i.e. he died. Becoming a tjurunga ends the 
story and the career of the hero, it is death and apotheosis. A folk 
tale is a narrative with a happy end, a myth is a tragedy; a god 
must die before he can be truly divine. 5 

A detailed analysis of my myth material reveals that certain heroes 
of the altjiranga mitjina (the eternal ones of the dream) are merely 
adjectives of the one great hero Malpunga, the phallic originator of 
the tjurunga cult. Malpunga is often called the great father and he 
is the leader of a group of young men. The significant thing is how- 
ever that these mythical personages who are derived from adjectives 

Myth and Folk Tale 343 

originally applied to Malpunga always have names that imply a 
curse (like "Rough anus," etc.), i.e., that the names represent the 
aggression of the brothers against the Primal Father. In a version 
collected by Strehlow subincision is performed on the father by his 
son out of jealousy. Some of the tribes in western New Guinea have 
myths of the Australian type in which the wanderings of a totemistic 
ancestral hero are told, ending with his death and apotheosis. After 
finishing their life on earth these ancestors become petrified or 
changed into trees and they are honored as the patron spirits of cer- 
tain localities and groups. In these narratives the Oedipus and Primal 
Horde theme is strongly marked. Aramemb adopts Jawi as his son, 
when Jawi seduces Aramemb's wife he kills him by magic. Then he 
tries to revive him but he arrives too late and this is how death 
came into the world. But death is again denied in the apotheosis 
that follows. From Jawi's grave a coconut palm arises miraculously 
and Jawi becomes the Dema (spirit or god) of the coconut palm. J 

The Kiwai myth of Marunogere is very instructive. Marunogere, 
the great leader, swallows a lump of sago like a cassowary and def- 
ecates it back unchanged but the sago is then rapidly transformed 
into a pig which he names after himself, Marunogere. All the peo- 
ple hunt the pig and his youngest son shoots it, so he dies, but comes 
to life again for a short time. He opens the vulva of the women and 
teaches people to have intercourse. Then he dies again and after his 
death people cut up and preserved his flesh as strong "medicine" 
and in some places they have preserved small pieces of dried human 
flesh which is said to be that of Marunogere's body. 6 So far we see 
a clear Oedipus and Primal Horde myth. It starts with a phantasy, 
frequently found in our analysis, and the enhanced magical power 
of the father who has become a representative of both parents in 
the anal delivery phantasy. Then we have the attack of the group, 
the youngest son as murderer of the Primal Father, the death of the 
latter as origin of death in general. When the father is dead, human 
beings grow up; they have intercourse. If the youngest son were the 
hero of the narrative and the story were to end at this point, we 
should have what I regard as the kernel of all "Marchen" plots. 
However, the hero in this narrative is the father and the revolt is 
regarded as a crime and an outrage. The psychological background 


of the story is a strong father identification. The sequel of the narra- 
tive is that besides Marunogere there was another great man called 
Gibogu. This chief wanted everybody to take part in the moguru. 
(The myth is the first moguru and the prototype of all subsequent 
rites.) Marunogere wished to keep the ceremony secret and to give 
prominence to the sexual aspects which were to take place in the 
dark. On account of the quarrel, Gibogo and his followers left the 
rest and went up into the sky where they cause the thunder to frighten 
Marunogere and his people. The second chief, introduced at the end 
of Marunogere, is the part that opposes sexuality and frightens peo- 
ple from the sky by his thunder. Like so many of his thunder wield- 
ing colleagues he represents law and order, the Superego. 

If we believe that the nucleus of myth is the death and apotheosis 
of the Primal Father we support a theory once so very popular 
among anthropologists according to which the gods are the dead. If 
at the same time we assume as a regular or at least frequent phase 
of evolution the type of totemistic myth found in Australia and New 
Guinea, in which mythological ancestors are identified with an ani- 
mal species or natural phenomena, this would be one of the chan- 
nels through which a "nature mythology" could develop. Whereas 
some of these myths may be handed down directly as oral tradition 
from the Primal Horde period 7 others may have been created by 
later generations on the old lines and in these we may find the marks 
left on myth by history. Others may have stepped into the Primal 
Father's shoes. But the main thing is that this type of narrative is 
only conceivable on a superego level, that is it must be based on a 
strong father identification. This is the "tragic conflict" of the hero 
rebel. And this difference in ontogenetic stage, the folk tale with its 
fight against "Superego precursors," "wicked parent" imagos, and 
the myth with its roots in the fully fledged superego, may account 
for the different attitude to reality that we find in myth. The fully 
developed superego represents the real father or at least the real 
father enters into the picture beside the phantasy image of infancy. 
Moreover in the overlying, conscious strata, the superego also stands 
for society. Myths in the "Primal Horde style," that is, myths that 
represent the brothers revolting against a single father, might very 
well arise later, not by inherited memory but by the idea of shared 

Myth and Folk Tale 345 

responsibility and identification as defenses against superego anxiety. 
It is too much to be against the father and against the group at the 
same time, therefore by introducing the device of representation by 
the opposite, the father becomes the Lone Hero and the enemy of 
society. The son becomes part of the group, and by this fission in 
the superego, his anxiety is reduced and revolt becomes imaginable. 
As this conflict is partly real, as it is a more adult form of the same 
conflict which we find in "Marchen" on a more infantile level, myth 
is a phantasy that demands to be believed and is bound up with 
group activity in the form of ritual. 

In the folk tale we relate how we overcame the anxiety connected 
with the "bad parents" and grew up, in myth we confess that only 
death can end the tragic ambivalence of human nature. Eros triumphs 
in the folk tale, Thanatos in the myth. 

1 "Narkapala"; means that he is ready to fight. 

2 Marriage by rape. 

3 The natives described in her account live south and west of those I have 

4 The Toad which is usually the cause of the trouble with the well or tree 
is here under the Princess' bed and is the cause of her sickness. 

5 This hypothesis aims at what I have come to regard as the kernel of the 
folk tale and of the myth; it cannot account for every narrative which, ac- 
cording to our definition, should be called a myth. Gods like Thor and Indra 
seem to be deified "Marchen" heroes and it is with this type of myth that 
O. Rank is mainly concerned. 

6 According to the theory I am advocating in this paper this is a typical 
myth and not a folk tale [Marchen]. 

7 I again emphasize that I am trying to give an explanation which does 
not necessitate the assumption of an "inherited unconsciousness." 

Franz Alexander 

The Psychoanalyst 

Looks at Contemporary Art 

Products of art can be looked upon from two 
different points of view: the aesthetic and the psychologic. The 
aesthetician and the art critic try to evaluate their artistic merit. The 
psychologist is not primarily concerned with what is a good or a bad 
painting; he considers the works of artists as valuable personal docu- 
ments which throw light upon the personality of their originator. 
Like dreams or daydreams, works of literature, painting, and sculp- 
ture are products of the creative fantasy which reflect the psychol- 
ogy of the artist. The psychological study of art products may serve 
not only for the study of the artist as a person, but also for the study 
of the emotional climate of a historical period. Because the work of 
an artist is a reflection of his personality as well as a reflection of 
the spirit of its times, the literature and art of a given period are 
most important documents for the historian of culture. I am prima- 
rily concerned here with the question : in what way does contempo- 
rary art express the spirit of our era, as Byzantine art expressed the 
mentality of the Middle Ages, or impressionism the outlook of the 
second half of the nineteenth century? 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 347 

In order to answer this question, one must first of all establish the 
characteristic features of contemporary painting. As in every past 
historical period as well as at present, there is a great divergence in 
subject matter and technique used by the different artists. In spite 
of these individual differences, there are fundamental similarities. It 
is not difficult, even for a nonexpert, to recognize Byzantine paint- 
ing or to distinguish a Renaissance product from a nineteenth- 
century impressionist picture. Obviously, there are certain common 
features which are characteristic of a period, although it is not 
always easy to define them precisely. 

Earlier art historians tried to explain these common features pri- 
marily from the point of view of the techniques used by the artists. 
It is only recently that some cultural historians have attempted to 
understand the prevailing style in art characteristic of a historical 
period from the cultural climate to which all persons living in a 
given time and place are equally exposed. Naturally, there are al- 
ways exceptions — artists who do not represent the current trend. In 
trying to define the characteristic features of contemporary paint- 
ing, we shall disregard those works which are not representative of 
our times. An artist of today may try to paint in the style of Rem- 
brandt or Titian, but such exceptional cases must be explained on a 
highly individual basis. They may offer most interesting opportuni- 
ties to study the psychology of such atypical artists, but they are not 
suitable for reconstructing the prevailing ideological trends and spirit 
of our times. 

What, then, are the most basic common features in contemporary 
paintings? One basic similarity consists either in the complete ab- 
sence of real objects or in their radical distortion. In modern paint- 
ing this trend is referred to as nonobjective art, or abstract art. There 
may be a lack of any reference to real objects, as for example in 
some paintings of Mondrian or Klee. In other works the objects are 
fragmented into their constituent parts and reassembled in different 
perspective, as in cubist paintings. In these it is sometimes well-nigh 
impossible to recognize the fragmented object, the product often 
resembling a piece of a picture puzzle. Again, in other paintings, 
the object is simply distorted but is still recognizable, or is reduced 


to its most elementary, often geometrically simplified, formal and 
basic color components. 

Another feature consists in the distortion of the spatial configura- 
tion without fragmentation of the objects — in placing disconnected 
objects side by side. Another type of distortion consists in empha- 
sizing certain aspects of the object which are commonly considered 
to be unpleasant. This may result in grotesque, ugly, or fear-inspiring 
effects, as for example in many of Grosz's drawings. In using such 
an expression as "ugly," I do not refer to the artistic merits of a 
painting. To represent ugliness is just as legitimate a function of art 
as to represent something which may be called pretty. Othello's deed 
was certainly ugly, yet is the subject of a great piece of literature. 

Another frequent feature in both modern and psychotic products 
is the tendency toward the fantastic, the eerie, the mystical, and 
toward dreamlike symbolism. Examples are certain paintings of 
Chagall, Miro, Dali, Tanguy, and many others. Another feature is 
the tendency to use primitive perspective or to mix different per- 
spectives, presenting an object from all sides at the same time. This 
is not to be confused with the primitive way in which different per- 
spectives were used by some early Renaissance painters. 

All these characteristics, from the point of view of psychology, can 
be interpreted as the manifestation of a central trend: withdrawal 
from the world as perceived through the sense organs, and substi- 
tuting for it a newly created, different kind of world. Of course, 
almost every artist, unlike a photographer, substitutes for the mere 
reproduction of the world of senses his own interpretation of his 
object. The mildest forms of this tendency are simplification, omis- 
ion, and emphasis, utilized to a greater or lesser degree by artists of 
all periods. This reinterpretation, however, goes much farther in 
contemporary painting than in the works of most great masters of 
the past. The great freedom of reinterpretation of the environment 
as perceived by our senses is characteristic of the contemporary 
painter. Everything which appears ephemeral and nonessential is 
omitted and certain fundamentals are emphasized, as in the post- 
impressionist paintings of Van Gogh or Cezanne. 

The next step in this direction is abstraction, which may go as far 
as reducing the object to its simplest geometric outlines. Or the ne- 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 349 

gation of a real world of senses may manifest itself in distortion. 
This is usually not a simple negation of the world as it is; it often 
has a hostile component; it expresses an angry denjal of the world 
as it is commonly perceived. For the psychologist this emphasis on 
the grotesque, or what one ordinarily would call unpleasant, is a 
clear confession of resentful rejection. Even stronger rejection is 
expressed in the completely objectless paintings. Only the very basic 
components of the visual universe are retained — color and line, 
light and dark. From these basic elements the artist creates a new 
view of a spatial world which contains no real objects. The cubist 
revolution contained both trends: the denial of the world as it is 
along with an even stronger motivational force to rearrange the 
fragmented parts of objects in a new, seemingly wanton but really 
highly consistent manner. It is as if the artist would challenge the 
creator and prove that he too can create a world according to his 
own system. 

As I said before, every artist creates his own world. The question 
is how much he retains of these actual elements as they are per- 
ceived by the senses. Most contemporary artists go much farther 
than their predecessors, with the exception of the primitives, in uti- 
lizing for the reconstruction of the world only the most basic ele- 
ments, such as lines and colors, and disregarding what might be 
called the incidental combination of lines, forms, and colors as they 
appear in the environment. 

It is like transposing a melody from one key to another. The 
great contemporary painters, such as Braque and Picasso, use the 
same artistic skill with which the old masters represented the real 
world we live in, to transform this world according to a consistent 
formula of their own. In the work of one of the forerunners of the 
era, Modigliani, the recreative urge is the strongest. He is really not 
so much a revolutionary as a reformer. Modigliani gives expression 
to his reforming urge in a consistent, longitudinal distortion of pro- 
portions and bilateral symmetry. This has sometimes been misin- 
terpreted as a mannerism. In reality it is but inner consistency in 
distortion. Otherwise Modigliani retains much of the technique of 
the old masters and even has a flavor of the Renaissance in his work. 

Denial and radical re-creation of the world of the senses is one 


of the all-pervasive keynotes in contemporary art. The "re-creator" 
of the world sometimes uses technological motifs, as does, for ex- 
ample, Leger. It appears as if the artist would envy the engineer who 
has actually succeeded in reshaping the surface of the globe and in 
superimposing upon the work of nature a new, technologically cre- 
ated, man-made world. Another way of creating a completely new 
world populated with dreamlike symbols is prevalent in the work of 
Miro and Tanguy. 

We see, then, that the denial of the real world of objects is a well- 
nigh universal characteristic of contemporary art. It is not merely 
a reinterpretation of the world — this is universal in every art — but 
a fundamental transformation combined with an aggressive denial 
of the objects in the form they are commonly perceived. The ways 
and means of this re-creation are widely different, according to the 
inclination and personality of the painter. The emphasis may be 
more on either denial, rejection and ridicule, or on magic re-crea- 
tion. In some nonobjective painters, for example, Mondrian, the 
nihilistic rejection of everything which even reminds one of the real 
world, is the main issue. Ridicule of any order or reason is outstand- 
ing in Dadaism, as if the more unexpected and the more random 
the juxtaposition of the elements, the better the collage. Since every- 
body retains in himself a residue of childish revolt against the obli- 
gation to be orderly and sensible, this type of repudiation of order 
and reason has a secret appeal similar to Freud's explanation of the 
so-called nonsense jokes. 

The question arises : is this trend in contemporary art — to reject 
and to remodel the surrounding world — unique? Some students of 
aesthetics will have a ready answer! These features are not at all 
characteristic of contemporary art alone — they are present in every 
form of art and literature. No real artist ever tries to give merely a 
faithful reproduction of reality. The specific creative act consists 
precisely in the artist's attempt to re-create in his own manner the 
surrounding world. This re-creative urge may manifest itself in many 
different ways and is present even in the realist painter and writer. 
It has often been emphasized that the great artist reproduces the 
essence of the subject. A Rembrandt portrait of an old man, while 
it represents one specific person, at the same time condenses into the 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 351 

work the universal features of all the old men who ever lived and 
will live in the future. The presentation of the universal, the time- 
less, the essential, has long been considered one of the main accom- 
plishments of the artist. The conventional formulation of aesthetics, 
that the writer and the artist express the universal through the spe- 
cific, the abstract through the concrete, applies also to impressionist 
art. The meadow in an impressionist painting is not a meadow in 
general, but a meadow at 3:30 on an afternoon in June. 

Another creative accomplishment of the artist is the condensation 
into one concrete example of the significant interrelationships among 
the objects depicted. A street of Paris by Pissarro is more than the 
representation of one special geographical location in the metrop- 
olis; it reflects the spirit of contemporary Paris through the fleet- 
ing impression made upon the onlooker. The ensemble, the tree- 
lined sidewalks, the advertisements, the color and attire of the 
milling crowd, all together have a common denominator expressing 
something essentially characteristic of the city. The artist's creation 
is to condense all this in one composition, not merely photographic, 
yet a faithful reproduction of one fleeting impression. In a sense it 
is much more realistic than a photograph because the visual im- 
pression is a highly selective act which emphasizes, distorts, and 
omits various details. The camera can never show how reality actu- 
ally reflects itself in the onlooker. 

When technical terms enter into common usage, they have a 
tendency to lose their original meaning. After they are in use for a 
while, the terms begin to live their own lives, gradually developing 
new connotations and thus becoming a source of confusion. This is 
precisely what happened to the words "impressionism" and "ex- 
pressionism." Nothing is further from the truth than "the saying" 
that the impressionist represents the outer world, the expressionist 
his inner world. The impressionist expresses something extremely 
subjective just as does the expressionist painter. Both represent, 
although in very different ways, the manner in which the world affects 
them. Both express their relation to the world. Negation of the world 
is as much an expression of a relation as is acceptance. The real 
difference between the two schools lies in their acceptance or rejec- 
tion of the world. The impressionist painters of the nineteenth cen- 


tury had a warm attachment to the world. Their pictures express 
more than acceptance — they express both curiosity and adoration. 
And this adoring love extends not only to sunshine, but to the rain, 
the fog, the meadow, the city street, the boite, the stage, the delicate 
ankles of the ballerina, and the robust petty bourgeois in the garden 
restaurant. What the impressionist represents is not the real world 
of objects but his warm acceptance of this world to which he trust- 
ingly exposes himself and which he takes in faithfully and lovingly. 
To be sure, the primary interest of the impressionist era is in the 
man-made world: the street, the park, the sidewalk cafe, the dance 
hall, the beach with umbrellas; and not so much the forest, the wild 
mountain peak, or the stormy sea — not unadulterated nature, which 
was the preferred topic of the romantics. The confident, urbane 
Western European looked with love and pride upon his own creation. 
Paris became a principal theme as the pinnacle of this individual- 
istic, enterprising world — of a world which believed in unlimited 
progress, in reason and science, and in whose hierarchy of values 
art, literature, and music, the basic sciences and philosophy, as in 
Plato's Republic, occupied the highest rank. This intellectual elite 
had its own exclusive society, which it exposed to the masses in the 
cafe and the literary cabaret. The public, particularly the well-to-do 
middle class, participated vicariously in this life, looking through 
the peepholes of literature, painting, and the stage. Their own pre- 
occupation with industry and commerce, which supplied the ma- 
terial foundation of this progressing world, appeared to them a 
humdrum existence the main purpose of which, at least in theory, 
was to make this exalted aesthetic hedonism of the spiritual elite 
possible. In practice, of course, this existence was mostly meager 
indeed, but in theory material wealth was there to serve the spir- 
itual progress of knowledge, art, literature, and the art of living; 
money was not an end in itself. 

Then suddenly in the summer of 1914, in a Balkan slum district, 
the fatal explosion took place and the bubble of this aesthetic culture 
burst. The European's crude awakening was a sudden and over- 
whelming one. The real forces of the world — industry, the military 
machine, and diplomacy — which until now had modestly and tac- 
itly remained in the background and ceded the arena of public life 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 353 

to art, science, the stage, and literature, took over the scene of his- 
tory overnight. "Blood and gold" are ruling the world, lamented 
the poet Andreas Ady, the Hungarian Verlaine, who sipped his 
absinthe in the sidewalk cafes of Paris and Budapest, and was one 
of the most sensitive exponents of decadence. With one stroke the 
painters and poets showed themselves to be nothing but the luxuries 
of a wealthy, carefree, and peaceful era; the industrial producer, 
the soldier, and the diplomat regained the leading role from which 
they were removed for a short and happy period of history. And 
the exponents of the aesthetic ideology, thus deprived of their 
raison d'etre, turned around and revolted against a world which 
showed up the futility of their esoteric existence. Their answer was 
at first angry indignation and scorn, and then total rejection of the 
world which now so convincingly disclosed its sordid realities. "The 
real world is ugly, not worth-while — why give it the consideration 
to depict it as it is!" Not the pleasing superstructure but the ugly 
skeleton became the popular subject. "We, the painters and writers, 
shall show you how repugnant and ridiculous the world is and we 
shall rebuild it according to our own magic formula." It was not 
said in these words, but this is what the Blue Riders in Munich, 
the futurists in Italy, the Dadaists in Switzerland, the Boheme of the 
Cafe du Dome, professed. The futurist Marinetti, who also invented 
the symbol of fascism, announced at a demonstration in Paris: 
"Destroy syntax! Sabotage the adjective!" And in Berlin, at the 
opening of a fall exhibition of paintings: "Destroy the museums! 
Burn down the libraries!" 1 Now the aesthetic vibrations of the 
moment, so removed from the actual brutal facts of life, were no 
longer a worthy subject of art Now the desperate efforts of Schnitz- 
ler's Anatole to endow his love affairs with suburban ingenues with 
the esoteric illusions by which this anemic Vienna playboy tried 
to enrich his bland, uneventful life, suddenly belonged to the era 
of yesterday, which had lost all its meaning in the dynamic present. 
To continue to indulge in the sentimental contemplation of the 
boulevard, extracting from it all shades of subjective variations 
of mood, was no longer appropriate in a Paris which had just re- 
cently been saved by its taxi drivers from military invasion. Im- 
pressionism, the hedonistic exploitation of the leisurely moment, 


became just as incompatible with the spirit of the day as a jazz 
band at a funeral. And thus almost overnight, in the second decade 
of the twentieth century, this loving acceptance of the world 
changed into its opposite, into an angry rejection. 

All this, of course, did not come so suddenly as it would appear 
at first sight. About the turn of the century the suspicion of having 
been double-crossed began to grow in the European mind. At first 
only the artists and writers, the forerunners of their time, gave ex- 
pression to a change of attitude. What the artist anticipated by 
presentiment, the rest of us realized a few years later. For us it was 
in August of 1914 that this period of Western history came to an 
end. For the insensitive it appeared as a sudden collapse; in reality, 
it was a gradual disintegration. Indeed, the collapse of nineteenth- 
century ideology, its confidence in steady progress, its aesthetic, 
hedonistic value system in which the arts, music, literature, and 
pure science occupied a supreme position, and above all, the un- 
questioned loving acceptance of the world as man made it, was 
not as sudden as it appeared to the average man. The signs of 
decline, presaging the apocalypse, were numerous and steadily 
growing. The truth that every development contains the germs of 
its own destruction, and that these latent destructive forces increase 
as the trend approaches its pinnacle can be demonstrated in the 
literature and arts at the close of the century. In literature it ap- 
peared as the decadent movement. In the poetry of Verlaine, 
Hofmannsthal, and Rilke, the enjoyment of the moment was mixed 
with a bittersweet melancholy, a wistful preoccupation with yester- 
day, an undertone of futility. Hauser characterizes this decadent 
component in impressionistic literature which was prominent in 

The Viennese represent the purest form of the impressionism 
which forgoes all resistance to the stream of experience. Perhaps 
it is the ancient and tired culture of this city, the lack of all active 
national politics, and the great part played in literary life by 
foreigners, especially Jews, which gives Viennese impressionism 
its peculiarly subtle and passive character. This is the art of the 
sons of rich bourgeois, the expression of the joyless hedonism of 
that "second generation" which lives on the fruits of its fathers' 
work. They are nervous and melancholy, tired and aimless, skep- 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 355 

tical and ironical about themselves, these poets of exquisite moods 
which evaporate in a trice and leave nothing behind but the feel- 
ing of evanescence, of having missed one's opportunities, and the 
consciousness of being unfit for life. 2 

In England the literary witticism, the provocative aphorism 
which challenged both reason and Victorian complacency, are 
more virile portents of the same ideological revolt. In Sweden 
Strindberg, and in Germany Wedekind, were exposing the less 
savory features of man. 

The detachment from the world of reality and the turning to- 
ward the mystical symbolism of the unconscious is seen also in the 
symbolic poetry of Mallarme and the symbolic paintings of Redon. 
The first signs of the urge to replace the world with another more 
consistent than the old, but still retaining the semblance of reality, 
appear in the postimpressionistic paintings of Van Gogh and 
Cezanne. The new Rousseauism of Gauguin, his return to primi- 
tive culture and unimproved nature, is another form of repudiation 
of the Western world. The most evolutionary event in these ideo- 
logical developments, however, came just about the turn of the 
century, when Freud proposed his theory of the unconscious mind. 

In both art and literature, the estrangement from the world as 
it appears was progressing relentlessly. With his emphasis on essen- 
tials, the skeletal structure of the body which is the same in every- 
one, the contemporary painter tacitly expresses his scorn for the 
credulity of the impressionist, who was so easily taken in by the 
pleasing surface, by clothing, by facial expression, by the skin and 
the muscles. These only hide the basic realities of the body, the 
viscera and the bony structure which can best be reproduced by 
simple geometric configurations. All the surface manifestations of 
the world, all the aesthetic bric-a-brac by which the ferocious ani- 
mal, man, tries to hide his real nature were to be disregarded. 
Blood and gold, and we may add, the blast furnace, are ruling the 
world. The hypocritical and anemic aestheticism of the last century 
was a self-deception in which the decadent bourgeois could for a 
little while indulge himself, so long as he was not challenged by 
the underground forces of society. As soon as the great masses 
of humanity became mobilized and clamored for a place in the sun, 


this decadent aesthetic bubble disappeared like the foam on a 
wave in a stormy ocean. Writes Ortega y Gasset, the visionary 
Spanish philosopher: 

The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, every- 
thing that is excellent, individual, qualified, and select. Anybody 
who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, 
runs the risk of being eliminated. 3 

In the dynamic world of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, and in the 
era of industrial mass production, the impressionistic and indi- 
vidualistic cultivation of the moment has no place. This is a century 
of action and not of idle contemplation. From illusions, from the 
ever-changing, evanescent impressions of the moment, we must re- 
turn to the basic essentials, not only in social life but also in art 
and literature, no matter whether they are pleasing or not. 

This is what the artists and writers of the early twentieth century 
express not in so many words, not in theory, but in their own me- 
dium of communication. And yet it was difficult, if not impossible, 
for the artists and writers to change their outlook at a moment's 
notice. They came into conflict with themselves, having to repudi- 
ate everything they professed yesterday and to reject a world in 
which they grew up. This was, after all, the only world they knew, 
the world in which they themselves were rooted. The most signifi- 
cant features of contemporary art and literature can be understood 
only when one realizes that the proponents of expressionism, ab- 
stractionism, and surrealism belong to this generation of transition. 
Their deep-seated conflict, their division of soul, accounts for those 
features with which the psychiatrist is so well acquainted, and 
which are reminiscent of psychopathology. They could not merely 
reject the external world because this world had already made a 
deep imprint upon their own personality; they had to repudiate a 
part of the self, that part which psychoanalysis calls the rational 
conscious ego, which is nothing but the imprint of the external 
world upon the original unorganized mass of impulses and desires 
which Freud called the id. The conscious ego is the internal repre- 
sentative of the world of reality as against the original basic in- 
stinctual forces. It is the ego which demands the adjustment of the 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 357 

subjective impulses to the world. Since the rational ego of this gen- 
eration was the heritage of the nineteenth century, their rebellion 
forced them to disavow this part of their own self. "The ego must 
be extirpated from literature," demanded Marinetti in Milan. 4 The 
result was an elemental break-through, from the unconscious, of 
the primitive disorganized impulses of the id. And this is why the 
unconscious mind as it manifests itself in dreams, in psychopatho- 
logical symptoms, and in the uncontrolled train of thoughts during 
free association, became the dominant note of contemporary art 
and literature. The unconscious broke through most clearly in the 
symbolism and dreamlike products of surrealistic paintings. The 
unconscious reveals itself directly in dreams, and dreams are pri- 
marily products of visual fantasy. Therefore surrealistic painting is 
a most appropriate representation of unconscious mental activity. 
Rejection of reality and rebellion against it, however, do not con- 
stitute a static mental condition; they represent no final solution. 
Not even a psychotic can remain in a state of unrelieved revolt. He 
rejects the world but he must rebuild it according to his own 
imagery in the form of illusions and hallucinations. Every person 
does the same in his dreams and daydreams. In fantasy we can 
correct those aspects of the world which we are not ready to ac- 
cept and which interfere with our subjective desires that are not 
adapted to reality. The similarity between the mental processes 
of the psychotics and the dreams of normal persons has long been 
recognized. Psychotics in a sense live continuously in a dream 
world; a healthy person indulges in such wishful distortions of 
reality only for a brief moment when the organism withdraws 
from the environment and is relieved from the strenuous task of 
conforming to the unalterable and sometimes very disturbing facts 
of reality. Every dream is a rejection of the undesirable aspects of 
the world, but it is also an attempt to make the world more accept- 
able. In order to accomplish this, the dreamer regresses to more 
primitive forms of mental activity. Rational thinking is expressed 
in words and is a highly advanced form of mental activity which 
is adjusted to reality. Everyone has to acquire the ability to think 
rationally during the process of intellectual maturation. In order to 
return to wishful thinking, the shackles of conscious verbal thinking 


must be discarded. In the dream one resumes the more infantile 
forms of mental activity which are characterized by magic and 
wish fulfillment. In dreams the ordinary rules of logic are aban- 
doned, the unconscious does not know the limitations of time and 
space. The unorthodoxy of space relations in contemporary draw- 
ings and paintings most appropriately expresses not the empirical 
space which is conveyed to us by our senses, but the type of space 
which appears in our dreams. The role of symbols is similar. Pic- 
torial symbols are often based on vague similarities and are there- 
fore in sharp contrast with the precise distinction of meaning 
conveyed by words. 

This affinity of contemporary art to the unconscious mind, par- 
ticularly dream life, explains certain similarities between paintings 
of schizophrenics and those of contemporary artists. This similarity 
has been noted by various psychiatrists and also by artists. Some 
of them, like Dubuffet, derived great stimulation from studying the 
drawings of schizophrenic patients. The schizophrenic also with- 
draws his interest from a world which has become unpalatable 
and replaces his realistic perceptions with the wishful creation of 
his own fantasy, his delusions, illusions, and hallucinations. In 
dreams, as in the fantasy products of schizophrenics, the uncon- 
scious mind reveals itself in its full nakedness. 

This comparison of contemporary paintings with the products of 
schizophrenics should not be interpreted as an evaluation of their 
artistic merits. There are gifted psychotics just as there are gifted 
neurotics. If Lombroso was right in maintaining that between 
genius and insanity there is only a narrow dividing line, insanity 
certainly does not exclude artistic talent. There are several exam- 
ples of great artists suffering from major psychiatric conditions. 
Neither does this comparison mean that modern artists are mentally 
disturbed. To my knowledge, the mental health of modern painters 
is no different from that of older masters. We find among them 
mentally healthy persons and neurotics as well as borderline psy- 
chotics. Their mental health or illness certainly cannot account for 
those features in their work which I am considering here. The simi- 
larity is based on the close affinity of contemporary art to the deep 
unconscious layers of the personality which both contemporary 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 359 

artists and schizophrenics reveal directly. In addition to these simi- 
larities there are also great and significant differences. The good 
contemporary artists attempt to communicate their unconscious 
processes in an organized fashion. The psychotic's paintings, on 
the other hand, show disorganization, mostly a flight from the 
world, with much less constructive effort to recapture the lost con- 
tact with the world. The attempt to negotiate a new kind of rela- 
tion to the world is the main striving of the modern artist. 

The withdrawal from the realistic world of objects and the return 
to the nonrational magic world of symbols and wishful distortions 
is unavoidably accompanied by confusion and anxiety. Disturbed 
by confusion and anxiety, the individual tries to recapture the world 
by reshaping it in fantasy. As we have seen, contemporary art 
attempts this in a radical way by magic and symbolism and by 
return to the basic elements of line and color. Some of these paint- 
ings express little more than utter confusion, but mostly there is 
an attempt to bring order into chaos. In cubistic paintings both 
trends are there: the first impression is that of complete disorder 
but, on further contemplation, gradually a fascinating and novel 
principle of organization can be discovered. In other contemporary 
paintings, as in Mondrian's work, the confusion is completely 
avoided by offering a simple geometric configuration and the har- 
mony of pure colors and lines. But the artist can achieve this 
perfect order and harmony only by ignoring the rich variety of the 
world that surrounds him. This is an orderly but badly impover- 
ished world. The artist tries to recapture mastery over the very little 
which remains after he repudiates reality. A white square on a 
black background exhibited by Malevitch in 1913 was the ultimate 
logical consequence of this defeatist trend to ignore the surround- 
ing universe, which had become so unpalatable. What a contrast 
between this geometric art, essentially a defeatist attempt to master 
the nothing, and the magnificent attempts of a Cezanne or a Van 
Gogh to introduce into the real world new principles of visual 

As mentioned before, in every art the world is re-created to some 
degree, but the artist mostly attempts a more or less realistic re- 
creation. In contemporary art the re-creation is more radical than 


in any previous cultural era. It is the diametric opposite of impres- 
sionism, the last and most advanced phase of a cultural develop- 
ment which started with the Renaissance, when European man 
became liberated from the medieval restrictions upon free inquiry 
and began to discover the world around him. The uniformity and 
rigidity of Byzantine paintings gradually gave place to a hitherto 
unknown freedom to see the world as it is. The background be- 
came more and more realistic as well as the facial expression and 
the body. In all fields of mental activity the trend was the same. 
Man began to explore the earth, then the celestial bodies, the ani- 
mal and human organism, and finally the self and the society in 
which he lives. In art this same trend toward exploration and mas- 
tery of the world remained consistent until the end of the nine- 
teenth century. The realistic representation of distinct objects was 
followed by the impressionist discovery of how to reproduce the 
medium between the objects. Light and air and the representation 
of the world in its totality, in the interaction of all its constituent 
parts, became the aim of painting. 

Hauser, in his Social History of Art, maintains that the first real 
ideological revolution since the Renaissance occurred in the twen- 
tieth century. The consistent trend toward the exploration and 
acceptance of the world was not interrupted until our present era, 
in spite of the fact that many of the innovations in science, art, 
and literature were accepted only after a period of repudiation. Yet 
Kepler's astronomical theory was only a step further in the direc- 
tion initially taken by Galileo and Copernicus, and Einstein's phys- 
ics was a step beyond Newton. In art, impressionism was at first 
violently rejected, and yet it was but the last step in the same 
consistent trend toward the pictorial discovery of the world which 
started with Giotto. 

The first actual reversal of trend against this steadily progressing 
realism and rationalism is what we are witnessing today. It ap- 
peared in literature as a revolt against reason in the use of words 
according to their acoustic qualities instead of their meaning, in 
irrational and symbolic stage productions, and finally in the direct 
representation of the unconscious in free association. In painting it 
appeared as the withdrawal from representing the world of reality, 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 361 

in the distortion of spatial relations and the objects themselves. 
The real revolution consists, however, in the repudiation of the 
loving acceptance of the world of reality and in the revolt against 
reason. In politics the same trend manifests itself in the totali- 
tarian emphasis on irrational motivations, on violence, vengeance, 
and greed, on the praise of a dangerous life. It appears in the form 
of political adventure and the abolition of freedom of thought and 

Indeed, looking upon current ideological trends from this per- 
spective offers a gloomy picture. Is this, however, a precise inter- 
pretation of the prevailing cultural trend? It is unquestionably true 
that this century began with a revolt against the nineteenth-century 
value system, which had remained essentially the same since the 
Renaissance. That this revolt in literature and art manifested itself 
in a repudiation of the world of the senses and of reason — which 
is man's weapon to master the world — is also true. That this revolt 
was followed in art by an attempt to re-create the external reality 
by archaic unrealistic and magic mental activities is equally valid. 
And there can be little doubt that the concurrent fascist and com- 
munist developments in Eastern and Central Europe are the mani- 
festations of unbridled instincts in politics. They also have a re- 
gressive character and are basically irrational and reactionary 
movements. The question is how to evaluate all these disturbing 
facts from the larger perspective of history. Are we at the beginning 
of a new period of medieval obscurantism in which the individual 
will lose all his spiritual and political freedom and, in order to save 
himself as an individual, will have to be content with withdrawal 
into the archaic wishful imagery of his unconscious mind? In his 
fear and confusion will he yield to some kind of tyranny and give 
up all further attempts to master realistically his environment and 
his fate by increasing his own knowledge, understanding, and rea- 
son? Will he be satisfied with powerless protest, flaunting his con- 
tempt of reason, ridiculing the world, and retreating into a dream 
world of surrealistic magic? 

One can also look upon these cultural developments in a differ- 
ent manner. The present trend in art and literature may reflect a 
new step in the exploration of the world: the exploration of the 


unconscious. For almost four centuries man turned his interest 
outward, learning more about the nature of the universe than in 
any other period of history; he gradually translated his theoretical 
knowledge into a technological mastery over the forces of nature. 
During all these impressive accomplishments of extroverted activi- 
ties, he completely forgot the exploration of his own self. He knew 
of himself only as much as he wanted to. He built up the illusion 
of himself as a progressive, rational, basically benign, and socially 
minded personality, striving for truth, for the cultivation of beauty, 
and for the realization of social justice. This was taught in the hu- 
manistic gymnasiums of the European continent and in the public 
schools of England. Those writers, artists, and philosophers who 
challenged this rosy picture of man's personality were disregarded 
or ridiculed by the official academies of culture. And the parents 
and teachers, the intellectual leaders, were alerted and on guard 
against the repeated onslaughts against their own repressions. 

Their chief enemy was the Viennese neurologist, Freud, ostra- 
cized by the medical society because of his revolutionary teachings 
concerning the role of sex and the unconscious mind in the causa- 
tion of neurosis. With the outbreak of the First World War the 
self-deceptive, complacent ideology began to crumble. And after 
the war, with the collapse of the political and economic structure 
of Europe, everything which hitherto was considered safe and 
stable was swept away. The controlling forces of the personality, in 
order to keep in check the asocial and irrational forces of the un- 
conscious, need reinforcement from the outside in the form of 
parental example, law and police, the authority of the state, the 
teachings of the church and the school. But the disintegrating po- 
litical and economic structure of Europe could no longer supply 
these external reinforcements. The older generation had failed in 
the eyes of the young. They were held responsible for the fiasco of 
the old system, whether it was the constitutional monarchy, the 
four-per-cent rate of interest, the gold standard, which appeared to 
be assured forever, or the conventional standards of the professors, 
upheld by the academies of the sciences and arts. The external 
authorities, the living representatives of our internal standards, 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 363 

became discredited, and the unconscious forces swept through the 
barriers of the conventional code. The unconscious — with all its 
elemental forces, mysticism, and irrationality — arose to the surface. 
It became the principal object of psychology and the social sci- 
ences, of art and literature, and it dominated the internal political 
life of nations as well as world politics. Are we witnessing at this 
very moment a brief lull before the storm? Will man be able to 
bring these unleashed, destructive forces under his control again? 
The same question on a smaller scale confronts the psychoan- 
alyst every day in his practice. With his therapeutic technique, he 
tries to bring the unconscious impulses of the patient to the sur- 
face. The traditional apprehension with which psychoanalysis was 
received, the fear that this procedure might unleash all the asocial 
propensities of the patient, and turn a hitherto harmless neurotic 
into a selfish, ruthless person, has proven unfounded. We have 
learned just the opposite. Repression, denial, hypocritical self- 
deception, have been inadequate defenses against the instinctive 
forces of man. The only remedy is to make the patient conscious 
of his deeper impulses. At first the barriers of repression must be 
overcome before a new and more extended control over the self 
can be obtained. Not even in a well-conducted treatment does this 
process of self-revelation always take place without occasional dra- 
matic episodes. When this happens we say that the patient is "act- 
ing out." From the point of view of history, the last forty years 
of Western civilization may be considered as a brief episode of 
acting out. Who can tell, however, whether or not we are at the 
end of this dynamic but chaotic phase of cultural and political 
history? One thing is certain, that if and when we have been able 
to develop new internal standards and a new relation to a world 
which has changed faster than our adaptive capacity, a wiser and 
more conscious humanity will arise. The chaotic eruption of the 
unconscious has already contributed new dynamic forces which 
gradually can be brought under the control of reason and utilized 
constructively. It has already opened up new avenues of artistic 
expression. From his acquaintance with the unconscious archaic 
layers of the mind, the artist, in the same way as the scientist, has 


gained new materials and techniques for expressing a new relation- 
ship to the world. 

Freud was not only the discoverer of the unconscious but also 
the inventor of a technique by which the unconscious forces, after 
being mobilized, can be brought under the control of the rational 
mind. After the scientific mastery of the unconscious, its artistic 
mastery will follow. 

In American contemporary art the trend toward reconstruction 
is more pronounced than the rebellious denial of the world which 
was so characteristic in the early European developments. In 
Europe the movement started as an open rebellion against the 
orderly and optimistic approach of the nineteenth century. Soon 
after the movement reached the shores of the United States 5 it lost 
much of its bitter and revolutionary connotation and became influ- 
enced by the mechanical and reconstructive spirit of an advanced 
industrial civilization. The effort to bring the unconscious under 
rational control is conspicuous in the works of many American 

There is no room at this time, however, for complacency. We 
have arrived at a crossroads of cultural development. The complete 
collapse of Western civilization or a new positive acceptance of the 
world and the rule of reason are the alternatives. Should the out- 
come be favorable, we shall have to come to terms with the world 
around us. Revolt and rejection of reality are destructive reac- 
tions and cannot represent a permanent solution. There is no choice 
— the road must eventually lead back to reality and reason. Life 
is dependent upon the environment. It is two-way traffic: we ex- 
press ourselves but we also receive from the environment. Art 
expresses the relationship of the self to the surrounding world. 
Negation and re-creation of the world with the help of magic must 
eventually yield to a more realistic solution. This of necessity will 
modify artistic style and expression. The naked unconscious, as it 
often appears in contemporary art, is not a suitable way of com- 
munication. It must go through the prism of the organizing portion 
of the personality, the conscious ego, in order to become mean- 
ingful. The artist eventually will emerge from the surrealistic de- 
tour through the depths of the unconscious mind with a fresh point 

The Psychoanalyst Looks at Contemporary Art 365 

of view, richer, and with a new constructive message which he 
cannot express in this era of negation and confusion. 

1 Walter Mehring, The Lost Library, pp. 129-130. 

2 The Social History of Art, Vol. II, p. 908. 

3 The Revolt of the Masses. 

4 Mehring, op. cit. 

5 The Armory Show in New York in 1913. 

Part Four 

Thomas Mann 

Freud and the Future 

We are gathered here to do honor to a great 
scientist. And the question may very properly be raised: what justi- 
fies a man of letters in assuming the role of spokesman on such 
an occasion? Or, passing on the responsibility to the members of 
the learned society which chose him, why should they not have 
selected one of their own kind, a man of science, rather than an 
author, to celebrate in words the birthday of their master? For an 
author, my friends, is a man essentially not bent upon science, 
upon knowing, distinguishing, and analyzing; he stands for simple 
creation, for doing and making, and thus may be the object of use- 
ful cognition, without, by his very nature, having any competence 
in it as subject. But is it, perhaps, that the author in his charac- 
ter as artist, and artist in the field of the intellect, is especially 
called to the celebration of feasts of the mind; that he is by nature 
more a man of feast days than the scientist and man of knowledge? 
It is not for me to dispute such a view. It is true, the poet has 
understanding of the feasts of life, understanding even of life as a 
feast — and here I am just touching, very lightly for the moment, 
upon a theme which may become a main motif in the chorus of 



homage which we are to perform this evening. But it is more likely 
that the sponsors of this evening had something else in mind in 
their choice: that is to say, the solemn and novel confrontation of 
object and subject, the object of knowledge with the knower — a 
saturnalia, as it were, in which the knower and seer of dreams 
himself becomes, by our act of homage, the object of dreamlike 
penetration. And to such a position I could not object, either; par- 
ticularly because it strikes a chord capable in the future of great 
symphonic development. It will recur, more clearly accented and 
fully instrumented. For, unless I am greatly mistaken, it is just this 
confrontation of object and subject, their mingling and identifica- 
tion, the resultant insight into the mysterious unity of Ego and 
actuality, destiny and character, doing and happening, and thus 
into the mystery of reality as an operation of the psyche — it is 
just this confrontation that is the alpha and omega of all psycho- 
analytical knowledge. 

Be that as it may, the choice of an artist as the encomiast of a 
great scientist is a comment upon both. In the first place, one de- 
duces from it a connection between the man of genius we now 
honor and the world of creative literature; in the second place, it 
displays the peculiar relations between the writer and the field of 
science whose declared and acknowledged master and creator the 
other is. Now, the unique and remarkable thing about this mutual 
close relation is that it remained for so long unconscious — that is, 
in that region of the soul which we have learned to call the uncon- 
scious, a realm whose discovery and investigation, whose conquest 
for humanity, are precisely the task and mission of the wise genius 
whose fame we celebrate. The close relation between literature and 
psychoanalysis has been known for a long time to both sides. But 
the solemn significance of this hour lies, at least in my eyes and 
as a matter of personal feeling, in that on this evening there is 
taking place the first official meeting between the two spheres, in 
the acknowledgment and demonstration of their relationship. 

I repeat that the profound sympathy between the two spheres 
had existed for a long time unperceived. Actually we know that 
Sigmund Freud, that mighty spirit in whose honor we are gathered 
together, founder of psychoanalysis as a general method of re- 

Freud and the Future 371 

search and as a therapeutic technique, trod the steep path alone 
and independently, as physician and natural scientist, without 
knowing that reinforcement and encouragement lay to his hand in 
literature. He did not know Nietzsche, scattered throughout whose 
pages one finds premonitory flashes of truly Freudian insight; he 
did not know Novalis, whose romantic-biologic fantasies so often 
approach astonishingly close to analytic conceptions; he did not 
know Kierkegaard, whom he must have found profoundly sympa- 
thetic and encouraging for the Christian zeal which urged him on 
to psychological extremes; and, finally, he did not know Schopen- 
hauer, the melancholy symphonist of a philosophy of the instinct, 
groping for change and redemption. Probably it must be so. By his 
unaided effort, without knowledge of any previous intuitive 
achievement, he had methodically to follow out the line of his own 
researches; the driving force of his activity was probably increased 
by this very freedom from special advantage. And we think of 
him as solitary — the attitude is inseparable from our earliest pic- 
ture of the man. Solitary in the sense of the word use by Nietzsche 
in that ravishing essay "What Is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals?" 
when he characterizes Schopenhauer as "a genuine philosopher, 
a self-poised mind, a man and gallant knight, stern-eyed, with the 
courage of his own strength, who knows how to stand alone and 
not wait on the beck and nod of superior officers." In this guise 
of man and gallant knight, a knight between Death and the Devil, 
I have been used to picture to myself our psychologist of the un- 
conscious, ever since his figure first swam into my mental ken. 

That happened late — much later than one might have expected, 
considering the connection between this science and the poetic and 
creative impulse in general and mine in particular. The connection, 
the bond between them, is twofold: it consists first in a love of 
truth, in a sense of truth, a sensitiveness and receptivity for truth's 
sweet and bitter, which largely expresses itself in a psychological 
excitation, a clarity of vision, to such an extent that the conception 
of truth actually almost coincides with that of psychological per- 
ception and recognition. And secondly it consists in an understand- 
ing of disease, a certain affinity with it, outweighed by fundamental 
health, and an understanding of its productive significance. 


As for the love of truth: the suffering, morally conditioned 
love of truth as psychology — that has its origin in Nietzsche's lofty 
school, where in fact the coincidence of "truth" and "psychologi- 
cal truth," of the knower with the psychologist, is striking indeed. 
His proud truthfulness, his very conception of intellectual honesty, 
his conscious and melancholy fearlessness in its service, his self- 
knowledge, self-crucifixion — all this has psychological intention 
and bearing. Never shall I forget the deepening, strengthening, 
formative effect upon my own powers produced by my acquaint- 
ance with Nietzsche's psychological agony. In Tonio Kroger the 
artist speaks of being "sick of knowledge." That is true Nietzsche 
language; and the youth's melancholy has reference to the Hamlet- 
like in Nietzsche's nature, in which his own mirrored itself: 
a nature called to knowledge without being genuinely born to 
it. These are the pangs and anguishes of youth, destined to be 
lightened and tranquilized as years flowed by and brought ripeness 
with them. But there has remained with me the desire for a psycho- 
logical interpretation of knowledge and truth; I still equate them 
with psychology and feel the psychological will to truth as a desire 
for truth in general; still interpret psychology as truth in the most 
actual and courageous sense of the word. One would call the tend- 
ency a naturalistic one, I suppose, and ascribe it to a training in 
literary naturalism; it forms a precondition of receptivity for the 
natural science of the psyche — in other words, for what is known 
as psychoanalysis. 

I spoke of a second bond between that science and the creative 
impulse: the understanding of disease, or, more precisely, of dis- 
ease as an instrument of knowledge. That, too, one may derive 
from Nietzsche. He well knew what he owed to his morbid state, 
and on every page he seems to instruct us that there is no deeper 
knowledge without experience of disease, and that all heightened 
healthiness must be achieved by the route of illness. This attitude 
too may be referred to his experience; but it is bound up with the 
nature of the intellectual man in general, of the creative artist in 
particular, yes, with the nature of humanity and the human being, 
of which last of course the creative artist is an extreme expression. 
"Uhumanite" says Victor Hugo "s'affirme par I'infirmite." A say- 

Freud and the Future 373 

ing which frankly and proudly admits the delicate constitution of 
all higher humanity and culture and their connoisseurship in the 
realm of disease. Man has been called "das kranke Tier" because of 
the burden of strain and explicit difficulties laid upon him by his 
position between nature and spirit, between angel and brute. What 
wonder, then, that by the approach through abnormality we have 
succeeded in penetrating most deeply into the darkness of human 
nature; that the study of disease — that is to say, neurosis — has re- 
vealed itself as a first-class technique of anthropological research? 

The literary artist should be the last person to be surprised at 
the fact. Sooner might he be surprised that he, considering his 
strong general and individual tendency, should have so late become 
aware of the close sympathetic relations which connected his own 
existence with psychoanalytic research and the lifework of Sig- 
mund Freud. I realized this connection only at a time when his 
achievement was no longer thought of as merely a therapeutic 
method, whether recognized or disputed; when it had long since 
outgrown his purely medical implications and become a world 
movement which penetrated into every field of science and every 
domain of the intellect: literature, the history of art, religion and 
prehistory; mythology, folklore, pedagogy, and what not — thanks 
to the practical and constructive zeal of experts who erected a 
structure of more general investigation round the psychiatric and 
medical core. Indeed, it would be too much to say that I came to 
psychoanalysis. It came to me. Through the friendly interest of 
some younger workers in the field for what I had written, from 
Little Herr Friedemann to Death in Venice, The Magic Moun- 
tain, and the Joseph novels, it gave me to understand that in my 
way I "belonged"; it made me aware, as probably behoved it, of 
my own latent, preconscious sympathies; and when I began to 
occupy myself with the literature of psychoanalysis I recognized, 
arrayed in the ideas and the language of scientific exactitude, much 
that had long been familiar to me through my youthful mental 

Perhaps you will kindly permit me to continue for a while in 
this autobiographical strain, and not take it amiss if instead of 
speaking of Freud I speak of myself. And indeed I scarcely trust 


myself to speak about him. What new thing could I hope to say? 
But I shall also, quite explicitly, be speaking in his honor in speak- 
ing of myself, in telling you how profoundly and peculiarly certain 
experiences decisive for my development prepared me for the 
Freudian experience. More than once, and in many places, I have 
confessed to the profound, even shattering impression made upon 
me as a young man by contact with the philosophy of Arthur 
Schopenhauer, to which then a monument was erected in the pages 
of Buddenbrooks. Here first, in the pessimism of a metaphysics 
already very strongly equipped on the natural-science side, I en- 
countered the dauntless zeal for truth which stands for the moral 
aspect of the psychology of the unconscious. This metaphysics, in 
obscure revolt against centuries-old beliefs, preached the primacy 
of the instinct over mind and reason; it recognized the will as 
the core and the essential foundation of the world, in man as in all 
other created beings; and the intellect as secondary and accidental, 
servant of the will and its pale illuminant. This it preached not in 
malice, not in the antihuman spirit of the mind-hostile doctrines 
of today, but in the stern love of truth characteristic of the century 
which combated idealism out of love for the ideal. It was so sin- 
cere, that nineteenth century, that — through the mouth of Ibsen 
— it pronounced the he, the lies of life, to be indispensable. Clearly 
there is a vast difference whether one assents to a he out of sheer 
hatred of truth and the spirit or for the sake of that spirit, in bitter 
irony and anguished pessimism! Yet the distinction is not clear to 
everybody today. 

Now, Freud, the psychologist of the unconscious, is a true son 
of the century of Schopenhauer and Ibsen — he was born in the 
middle of it. How closely related is his revolution to Schopen- 
hauer's, not only in its content, but also in its moral attitude! 
His discovery of the great role played by the unconscious, the Id, 
in the soul-life of man challenged and challenges classical psy- 
chology, to which the consciousness and the psyche are one and 
the same, as offensively as once Schopenhauer's doctrine of the 
will challenged philosophical belief in reason and the intellect. 
Certainly the early devotee of The World as Will and Idea is at 
home in the admirable essay which is included in Freud's New 

Freud and the Future 375 

Introductory Essays in Psychoanalysis under the title "The Anat- 
omy of the Mental Personality." It describes the soul-world of 
the unconscious, the Id, in language as strong, and at the same 
time in as coolly intellectual, objective, and professional a tone, 
as Schopenhauer might have used to describe his sinister kingdom 
of the will. "The domain of the Id," he says, "is the dark, in- 
accessible part of our personality; the little that we know of it we 
have learned through the study of dreams and of the formation 
of neurotic symptoms." He depicts it as a chaos, a melting pot of 
seething excitations. The Id, he thinks, is, so to speak, open to- 
ward the somatic, and receives thence into itself compulsions which 
there find psychic expression — in what substratum is unknown. 
From these impulses it receives its energy; but it is not organized, 
produces no collective will, merely the striving to achieve satis- 
faction for the impulsive needs operating under the pleasure prin- 
ciple. In it no laws of thought are valid, and certainly not the law 
of opposites. "Contradictory stimuli exist alongside each other 
without canceling each other out or even detracting from each 
other; at most they unite in compromise forms under the compul- 
sion of the controlling economy for the release of energy." You 
perceive that this is a situation which, in the historical experience 
of our own day, can take the upper hand with the Ego, with a 
whole mass-Ego, thanks to a moral devastation which is produced 
by worship of the unconscious, the glorification of its dynamic as 
the only life-promoting force, the systematic glorification of the 
primitive and irrational. For the unconscious, the Id, is primitive 
and irrational, is pure dynamic. It knows no values, no good or 
evil, no morality. It even knows no time, no temporal flow, nor any 
effect of time upon its psychic process. "Wish stimuli," says Freud, 
"which have never overpassed the Id, and impressions which have 
been repressed into its depths, are virtually indestructible, they sur- 
vive decade after decade as though they had just happened. They 
can only be recognized as belonging to the past, devalued and 
robbed of their charge of energy, by becoming conscious through 
the analytic procedure." And he adds that therein lies pre-emi- 
nently the healing effect of analytic treatment. We perceive accord- 
ingly how antipathetic deep analysis must be to an Ego which is 


intoxicated by a worship of the unconscious to the point of being 
in a condition of subterranean dynamic. It is only too clear and 
understandable that such an Ego is deaf to analysis and that the 
name of Freud must not be mentioned in its hearing. 
— 'mm As for the Ego itself, its situation is pathetic, well-nigh alarm- 
ing. It is an alert, prominent, and enlightened little part of the Id — 
much as Europe is a small and lively province of the greater Asia. 
The Ego is that part of the Id which became modified by contact 
with the outer world; equipped for the reception and preservation 
of stimuli; comparable to the integument with which any piece of 
living matter surrounds itself. A very perspicuous biological pic- 
ture. Freud writes indeed a very perspicuous prose, he is an artist 
of thought, like Schopenhauer, and like him a writer of European 
rank. The relation with the other world is, he says, decisive for the 
Ego, it is the Ego's task to represent the world to the Id — for its 
good! For without regard for the superior power of the outer world 
the Id, in its blind striving toward the satisfaction of its instincts, 
would not escape destruction. The Ego takes cognizance of the 
outer world, it is mindful, it honorably tries to distinguish the ob- 
jectively real from whatever is an accretion from its inward sources 
of stimulation. It is entrusted by the Id with the lever of action; but 
between the impulse and the action it has interposed the delay of 
the thought process, during which it summons experience to its aid 
and thus possesses a certain regulative superiority over the pleas- 
ure principle which rules supreme in the unconscious, correcting it 
by means of the principle of reality. But even so, how feeble it is! 
Hemmed in between the unconscious, the outer world, and what 
Freud calls the Superego, it leads a pretty nervous and anguished 
existence. Its own dynamic is rather weak. It derives its energy 
from the Id and in general has to carry out the latter's behests. 
It is fain to regard itself as the rider and the unconscious as the 
horse. But many a time it is ridden by the unconscious; and I take 
leave to add what Freud's rational morality prevents him from 
saying, that under some circumstances it makes more progress by 
this illegitimate means. 

But Freud's description of the Id and the Ego — is it not to 
a hair Schopenhauer's description of the Will and the Intellect, a 

Freud and the Future 7>11 

translation of the latter's metaphysics into psychology? So he who 
had been initiated into the metaphysics of Schopenhauer and in 
Nietzsche tasted the painful pleasure of psychology — he must needs 
have been filled with a sense of recognition and familiarity when 
first, encouraged thereto by its denizens, he entered the realms of 
psychoanalysis and looked about him. 

He found too that his new knowledge had a strange and strong 
retroactive effect upon the old. After a sojourn in the world of 
Freud, how differently, in the light of one's new knowledge, does 
one re-read the reflections of Schopenhauer, for instance his great 
essay "Transcendent Speculations on Apparent Design in the Fate 
of the Individual"! And here I am about to touch upon the most 
profound and mysterious point of contact between Freud's natural- 
scientific world and Schopenhauer's philosophic one. For the essay 
I have named, a marvel of profundity and penetration, constitutes 
this point of contact. The pregnant and mysterious idea there 
developed by Schopenhauer is briefly this: that precisely as in 
a dream it is our own will that unconsciously appears as in- 
exorable objective destiny, everything in it proceeding out of our- 
selves and each of us being the secret theater manager of our 
own dreams, so also in reality the great dream which a single 
essence, the will itself, dreams with us all, our fate, may be the 
product of our inmost selves, of our wills, and we are actually 
ourselves bringing about what seems to be happening to us. I have 
only briefly indicated here the content of the essay, for these repre- 
sentations are winged with the strongest and most sweeping powers 
of suggestion. But not only does the dream psychology which 
Schopenhauer calls to his aid bear an explicitly psychoanalytic 
character, even to the presence of the sexual argument and para- 
digm; but the whole complexus of thought is a philosophical antici- 
pation of analytical conceptions, to a quite astonishing extent. For, 
to repeat what I said in the beginning, I see in the mystery of the 
unity of the Ego and the world, of being and happening, in the 
perception of the apparently objective and accidental as a matter 
of the soul's own contriving, the innermost core of psychoanalytic 

And here there occurs to me a phrase from the pen of C. J. Jung, 


an able but somewhat ungrateful scion of the Freudian school, in 
his significant introduction to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. "It 
is so much more direct, striking, impressive, and thus convincing," 
he says, "to see how it happens to me than to see how I do it." 
A bold, even an extravagant statement, plainly betraying the calm- 
ness with which in a certain school of psychology certain things 
are regarded which even Schopenhauer considered prodigiously 
daring speculation. Would this unmasking of the "happening" as 
in reality "doing" be conceivable without Freud? Never! It owes 
him everything. It is weighted down with assumptions, it could not 
be understood, it could never have been written, without all that 
analysis has brought to light about slips of tongue and pen, the 
whole field of human error, the retreat into illness, the psychology 
of accidents, the self-punishment compulsion — in short, all the 
wizardry of the unconscious. Just as little, moreover, would that 
close-packed sentence of Jung's, including its psychological prem- 
ises, have been possible without Schopenhauer's adventurous pio- 
neering speculation. Perhaps this is the moment, my friends, to 
indulge on this festive occasion in a little polemic against Freud 
himself. He does not esteem philosophy very highly. His scientific 
exactitude does not permit him to regard it as a science. He re- 
proaches it with imagining that it can present a continuous and 
consistent picture of the world; with overestimating the objective 
value of logical operations; with believing in intuitions as a source 
of knowledge and with indulging in positively animistic tendencies, 
in that it believes in the magic of words and the influence of 
thought upon reality. But would philosophy really be thinking too 
highly of itself on these assumptions? Has the world ever been 
changed by anything save by thought and its magic vehicle the 
Word? I believe that in actual fact philosophy ranks before and 
above the natural sciences and that all method and exactness serve 
its intuitions and its intellectual and historical will. In the last 
analysis it is always a matter of the quod erat demonstrandum. 
Scientific freedom from assumptions is or should be a moral fact. 
But intellectually it is, as Freud points out, probably an illusion. 
One might strain the point and say that science has never made a 

Freud and the Future 379 

discovery without being authorized and encouraged thereto by 

All this by the way. But it is in line with my general intention 
to pause a little longer at the sentence which I quoted from Jung. 
In this essay and also as a general method which he uses by pref- 
erence, Jung applies analytical evidence to form a bridge between 
Occidental thought and Oriental esoteric. Nobody has focused so 
sharply as he the Schopenhauer-Freud perception that "the giver of 
all given conditions resides in ourselves — a truth which despite all 
evidence in the greatest as well as in the smallest things never be- 
comes conscious, though it is only too often necessary, even indis- 
pensable, that it should be." A great and costly change, he thinks, 
is needed before we understand how the world is "given" by the 
nature of the soul; for man's animal nature strives against seeing 
himself as the maker of his own conditions. It is true that the 
East has always shown itself stronger than the West in the con- 
quest of our animal nature, and we need not be surprised to hear 
that in its wisdom it conceives even the gods among the "given 
conditions" originating from the soul and one with her, light and 
reflection of the human soul. This knowledge, which, according to 
the Book of the Dead, one gives to the deceased to accompany 
him on his way, is a paradox to the Occidental mind, conflicting 
with its sense of logic, which distinguishes between subject and 
object and refuses to have them coincide or make one proceed 
from the other. True, European mysticism has been aware of such 
attitudes, and Angelus Silesius said: 

I know that without me God cannot live a moment; 
If I am destroyed He must give up the ghost. 

But on the whole a psychological conception of God, an idea of 
the godhead which is not pure condition, absolute reality, but one 
with the soul and bound up with it, must be intolerable to Occi- 
dental religious sense — it would be equivalent to abandoning the 
idea of God. 

Yet religion — perhaps even etymologically — essentially implies 
a bond. In Genesis we have talk of the bond (covenant) between 
God and man, the psychological basis of which I have attempted 


to give in the mythological novel Joseph and His Brothers. Per- 
haps my hearers will be indulgent if I speak a little about my own 
work; there may be some justification for introducing it here in 
this hour of formal encounter between creative literature and the 
psychoanalytic. It is strange — and perhaps strange not only to 
me — that in this work there obtains precisely that psychological 
theology which the scholar ascribes to Oriental esoteric. This 
Abram is in a sense the father of God. He perceived and brought 
Him forth; His mighty qualities, ascribed to Him by Abram, were 
probably His original possession, Abram was not their inventor, 
yet in a sense he was, by virtue of his recognizing them and there- 
with, by taking thought, making them real. God's mighty qualities 
— and thus God Himself — are indeed something objective, exte- 
rior to Abram; but at the same time they are in him and of him 
as well; the power of his own soul is at moments scarcely to be 
distinguished from them, it consciously interpenetrates and fuses 
with them — and such is the origin of the bond which then the 
Lord strikes with Abram, as the explicit confirmation of an in- 
ward fact. The bond, it is stated, is made in the interest of both, 
to the end of their common sanctification. Need human and need 
divine here entwine until it is hard to say whether it was the 
human or the divine that took the initiative. In any case the ar- 
rangement shows that the holiness of man and the holiness of 
God constituted a twofold process, one part being most intimately 
bound up with the other. Wherefore else, one asks, should there 
be a bond at all? 

The soul as "giver of the given" — yes, my friends, I am well 
aware that in the novel this conception reaches an ironic pitch 
which is not authorized either in Oriental wisdom or in psycho- 
logical perception. But there is something thrilling about the un- 
conscious and only later discovered harmony. Shall I call it the 
power of suggestion? But sympathy would be a better word: a 
kind of intellectual affinity, of which naturally psychoanalysis was 
earlier aware than was I, and which proceeded out of those liter- 
ary appreciations which I owed to it at an earlier stage. The latest 
of these was an offprint of an article which appeared in Imago, 
written by a Viennese scholar of the Freudian school, under the 

Freud and the Future 381 

title "On the Psychology of the Older School of Biography." The 
rather dry title gives no indication of the remarkable contents. 
The writer shows how the older and simpler type of biography 
and in particular the written lives of artists, nourished and con- 
ditioned by popular legend and tradition, assimilate, as it were, 
the life of the subject to the conventionalized stock-in-trade of 
biography in general, thus imparting a sort of sanction to their 
own performance and establishing its genuineness; making it au- 
thentic in the sense of "as it always was" and "as it has been 
written." For man sets store by recognition, he likes to find the 
old in the new, the typical in the individual. From that recogni- 
tion he draws a sense of the familiar in life, whereas if it painted 
itself as entirely new, singular in time and space, without any pos- 
sibility of resting upon the known, it could only bewilder and 
alarm. The question, then, which is raised by the essay, is this: 
can any line be sharply and unequivocally drawn between the 
formal stock-in-trade of legendary biography and the character- 
istics of the single personality — in other words, between the typi- 
cal and the individual? A question negatived by its very statement. 
For the truth is that life is a mingling of the individual elements 
and the formal stock-in-trade; a mingling in which the individual, 
as it were, only lifts his head above the formal and impersonal 
elements. Much that is extrapersonal, much unconscious identifi- 
cation, much that is conventional and schematic, is nonetheless 
decisive for the experience not only of the artist but of the human 
being in general. "Many of us," says the writer of the article, 
" 'live' today a biographical type, the destiny of a class or rank 
or calling. The freedom in the shaping of the human being's life 
is obviously connected with that bond which we term 'lived vita' " 
And then, to my delight, but scarcely to my surprise, he begins 
to cite from Joseph, the fundamental motif of which he says is 
precisely this idea of the "lived life," life as succession, as a mov- 
ing in others' steps, as identification — such as Joseph's teacher, 
Eliezer, practices with droll solemnity. For in him time is can- 
celed and all the Eliezers of the past gather to shape the Eliezer 
of the present, so that he speaks in the first person of that Elie- 


zer who was Abram's servant, though he was far from being the 
same man. 

I must admit that I find the train of thought extraordinarily 
convincing. The essay indicates the precise point at which the 
psychological interest passes over into the mythical. It makes it 
clear that the typical is actually the mythical, and that one may 
as well say "lived myth" as "lived life." But the mythus as lived 
is the epic idea embodied in my novel; and it is plain to me that 
when as a novelist I took the step in my subject matter from the 
bourgeois and individual to the mythical and typical my personal 
connection with the analytic field passed into its acute stage. The 
mythical interest is as native to psychoanalysis as the psychological 
interest is to all creative writing. Its penetration into the child- 
hood of the individual soul is at the same time a penetration into 
the childhood of mankind, into the primitive and mythical. Freud 
has told us that for him all natural science, medicine, and psycho- 
therapy were a lifelong journey round and back to the early pas- 
sion of his youth for the history of mankind, for the origins of 
religion and morality — an interest which at the height of his career 
broke out to such magnificent effect in Totem and Taboo. The 
word Tiefenpsychologie ("deep" psychology) has a temporal sig- 
nificance; the primitive foundations of the human soul are likewise 
primitive time, they are those profound time-sources where the 
myth has its home and shapes the primeval norms and forms of 
life. For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless 
schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it repro- 
duces its traits out of the unconscious. Certainly when a writer has 
acquired the habit of regarding life as mythical and typical there 
comes a curious heightening of his artist temper, a new refresh- 
ment to his perceiving and shaping powers which otherwise occurs 
much later in life; for while in the life of the human race the 
mythical is an early and primitive stage, in the life of the individual 
it is a late and mature one. What is gained is an insight into the 
higher truth depicted in the actual; a smiling knowledge of the 
eternal, the ever-being and authentic; a knowledge of the schema 
in which and according to which the supposed individual lives, 
unaware, in his naive belief in himself as unique in space and 

Freud and the Future 383 

time, of the extent to which his life is but formula and repetition 
and his path marked out for him by those who trod it before him. 
His character is a mythical role which the actor just emerged from 
the depths to the light plays in the illusion that it is his own and 
unique, that he, as it were, has invented it all himself, with a 
dignity and security of which his supposed unique individuality in 
time and space is not the source, but rather which he creates out 
of his deeper consciousness in order that something which was 
once founded and legitimized shall again be represented and once 
more for good or ill, whether nobly or basely, in any case after its 
own kind conduct itself according to pattern. Actually, if his ex- 
istence consisted merely in the unique and the present, he would 
not know how to conduct himself at all; he would be confused, 
helpless, unstable in his own self-regard, would not know which 
foot to put foremost or what sort of face to put on. His dignity 
and security lie all unconsciously in the fact that with him some- 
thing timeless has once more emerged into the light and become 
present; it is a mythical value added to the otherwise poor and 
valueless single character; it is native worth, because its origin lies 
in the unconscious. 

Such is the gaze which the mythically oriented artist bands upon 
the phenomena about him — an ironic and superior gaze, as you 
can see, for the mythical knowledge resides in the gazer and not 
in that at which he gazes. But let us suppose that the mythical 
point of view could become subjective; that it could pass over 
into the active Ego and become conscious there, proudly and 
darkly yet joyously, of its recurrence and its typicality, could cele- 
brate its role and realize its own value exclusively in the knowledge 
that it was a fresh incarnation of the traditional upon earth. One 
might say that such a phenomenon alone could be the "lived 
myth"; nor should we think that it is anything novel or unknown. 
The life in the myth, life as a sacred repetition, is a historical form 
of life, for the man of ancient times lived thus. An instance is the 
figure of the Egyptian Cleopatra, which is Ishtar, Astarte, Aphro- 
dite in person. Bachofen, in his description of the cult of Bacchus, 
the Dionysiac religion, regards the Egyptian queen as the consum- 
mate picture of a Dionysiac stimula; and according to Plutarch it 


was far more her erotic intellectual culture than her physical 
charms that entitled her to represent the female as developed into 
the earthly embodiment of Aphrodite. But her Aphrodite nature, 
her role of Hathor-Isis, is not only objective, not only a treatment 
of her by Plutarch or Bachofen; it was the content of her subjec- 
tive existence as well, she lived the part. This we can see by the 
manner of her death: she is supposed to have killed herself by 
laying an asp upon her bosom. But the snake was the familiar of 
Ishtar, the Egyptian Isis, who is represented clad in a garment of 
scales; also there exists a statuette of Ishtar holding a snake to 
her bosom. So that if Cleopatra's death was as the legend repre- 
sents, the manner of it was a manifestation of her mythical Ego. 
Moreover, did she not adopt the falcon hood of the goddess Isis 
and adorn herself with the insignia of Hathor, the cow's horns 
with the crescent moon between? And name her two children by 
Mark Antony Helios and Selene? No doubt she was a very sig- 
nificant figure indeed — significant in the antique sense, that she 
was well aware who she was and in whose footsteps she trod! 

The Ego of antiquity and its consciousness of itself was different 
from our own, less exclusive, less sharply defined. It was, as it 
were, open behind; it received much from the past and by repeat- 
ing it gave it presentness again. The Spanish scholar Ortega y 
Gasset puts it that the man of antiquity, before he did anything, 
took a step backwards, like the bullfighter who leaps back to 
deliver the mortal thrust. He searched the past for a pattern into 
which he might slip as into a diving bell, and being thus at once 
disguised and protected might rush upon his present problem. Thus 
his life was in a sense a reanimation, an archaizing attitude. But 
it is just this life as reanimation that is the life as myth. Alexander 
walked in the footsteps of Miltiades; the ancient biographers of 
Caesar were convinced, rightly or wrongly, that he took Alexander 
as his prototype. But such "imitation" meant far more than we 
mean by the word today. It was a mythical identification, pecul- 
iarly familiar to antiquity; but it is operative far into modern 
times, and at all times is psychically possible. How often have we 
not been told that the figure of Napoleon was cast in the antique 
mold! He regretted that the mentality of the time forbade him to 

Freud and the Future 385 

give himself out for the son of Jupiter Amon, in imitation of Alex- 
ander. But we need not doubt that — at least at the period of his 
Eastern exploits — he mythically confounded himself with Alex- 
ander; while after he turned his face westwards he is said to have 
declared: "I am Charlemagne." Note that: not "I am like Charle- 
magne" or "My situation is like Charlemagne's," but quite simply: 
"I am he." That is the formulation of the myth. Life, then — at any 
rate, significant life — was in ancient times the reconstitution of 
the myth in flesh and blood; it referred to and appealed to the 
myth; only through it, through reference to the past, could it ap- 
prove itself as genuine and significant. The myth is the legitimiza- 
tion of life; only through and in its does life find self-awareness, 
sanction, consecration. Cleopatra fulfilled her Aphrodite character 
even unto death — and can one live and die more significantly or 
worthily than in the celebration of the myth? We have only to 
think of Jesus and His life, which was lived in order that that 
which was written might be fulfilled. It is not easy to distinguish 
between His own consciousness and the conventionalizations of 
the evangelists. But His word on the cross, about the ninth hour, 
that "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" was evidently not in the least 
an outburst of despair and disillusionment; but on the contrary a 
lofty messianic sense of self. For the phrase is not original, not a 
spontaneous outcry. It stands at the beginning of the Twenty- 
second Psalm, which from one end to the other is an announce- 
ment of the Messiah. Jesus was quoting, and the quotation meant: 
"Yes, it is I!" Precisely thus did Cleopatra quote when she took 
the asp to her breast to die; and again the quotation meant: "Yes, 
it is I!" 

Let us consider for a moment the word "celebration" which I 
used in this connection. It is a pardonable, even a proper usage. 
For life in the myth, life, so to speak, in quotation, is a kind of 
celebration, in that it is a making present of the past, it becomes 
a religious act, the performance by a celebrant of a prescribed 
procedure; it becomes a feast. For a feast is an anniversary, a 
renewal of the past in the present. Every Christmas the world- 
saving Babe is born again on earth, to suffer, to die, and to arise. 
The feast is the abrogation of time, an event, a solemn narrative 


being played out conformably to an immemorial pattern; the events 
in it take place not for the first time, but ceremonially accord- 
ing to the prototype. It achieves presentness as feasts do, recurring 
in time with their phases and hours following on each other in 
time as they did in the original occurrence. In antiquity each feast 
was essentially a dramatic performance, a mask; it was the scenic 
reproduction, with priests as actors, of stories about the gods — as 
for instance the life and sufferings of Osiris. The Christian Middle 
Ages had their mystery play, with heaven, earth, and the torments 
of hell — just as we have it later in Goethe's Faust; they had their 
carnival farce, their folk mime. The artist eye has a mythical slant 
upon life, which makes it look like a farce, like a theatrical per- 
formance of a prescribed feast, like a Punch and Judy epic, 
wherein mythical character puppets reel off a plot abiding from 
past time and now again present in a jest. It only lacks that this 
mythical slant pass over and become subjective in the performers 
themselves, become a festival and mythical consciousness of part 
and play, for an epic to be produced such as that in the first vol- 
ume of the Joseph and His Brothers series, particularly in the 
chapter "The Great Hoaxing." There a mythical recurrent farce is 
tragicomically played by personages all of whom well know in 
whose steps they tread: Isaac, Esau, and Jacob; and who act out 
the cruel and grotesque tale of how Esau the Red is led by the 
nose and cheated of his birthright to the huge delight of all the 
bystanders. Joseph too is another such celebrant of life; with 
charming mythological hocus-pocus he enacts in his own person 
the Tammuz-Osiris myth, "bringing to pass" anew the story of 
the mangled, buried, and arisen god, playing his festival game 
with that which mysteriously and secretly shapes life out of its 
own depths — the unconscious. The mystery of the metaphysician 
and psychologist, that the soul is the giver of all given conditions, 
becomes in Joseph easy, playful, blithe — like a consummately ar- 
tistic performance by a fencer or juggler. It reveals his infantile 
nature — and the word I have used betrays how closely, though 
seeming to wander so far afield, we have kept to the subject of 
our evening's homage. 

Infantilism — in other words, regression to childhood — what a 

Freud and the Future 387 

role this genuinely psychoanalytic element plays in all our lives! 
What a large share it has in shaping the life of a human being; 
operating, indeed, in just the way I have described: as mythical 
identification, as survival, as a treading in footprints already made! 
The bond with the father, the imitation of the father, the game 
of being the father, and the transference to father-substitute pic- 
tures of a higher and more developed type — how these infantile 
traits work upon the life of the individual to mark and shape it! I 
use the word "shape," for to me in all seriousness the happiest, 
most pleasurable element of what we call education (Bildung), 
the shaping of the human being, is just this powerful influence of 
admiration and love, this childish identification with a father- 
image elected out of profound affinity. The artist in particular, a 
passionately childlike and play-possessed being, can tell us of the 
mysterious yet after all obvious effect of such infantile imitation 
upon his own life, his productive conduct of a career which after 
all is often nothing but a reanimation of the hero under very dif- 
ferent temporal and personal conditions and with very different, 
shall we say childish, means. The imitatio Goethe, with its Werther 
and Wilhelm Meister stages, its old-age period of Faust and Diwan, 
can still shape and mythically mold the life of an artist — rising 
out of his unconscious, yet playing over — as is the artist way — 
into a smiling, childlike, and profound awareness. 

The Joseph of the novel is an artist, playing with his imitatio 
dei upon the unconscious string; and I know not how to express 
the feelings which possess me — something like a joyful sense of 
divination of the future — when I indulge in this encouragement of 
the unconscious to play, to make itself fruitful in a serious prod- 
uct, in a narrational meeting of psychology and myth, which is at 
the same time a celebration of the meeting between poetry and 

And now this word "future": I have used it in the title of my 
address, because it is this idea, the idea of the future, which I 
involuntarily like best to connect with the name of Freud. But 
even as I have been speaking I have been asking myself whether 
I have not been guilty of a cause of confusion; whether — from 
what I have said up to now — a better title might not have been 


something like "Freud and the Myth." And yet I rather cling to 
the combination of name and word and I would like to justify 
and make clear its relation to what I have so far said. I make 
bold to believe that in that novel so kin to the Freudian world, 
making as it does the light of psychology play upon the myth, 
there lie hidden seeds and elements of a new and coming sense of 
our humanity. And no less firmly do I hold that we shall one 
day recognize in Freud's lifework the cornerstone for the building 
of a new anthropology and therewith of a new structure, to which 
many stones are being brought up today, which shall be the future 
dwelling of a wiser and freer humanity. This physicianly psycholo- 
gist will, I make no doubt at all, be honored as the pathfinder 
toward a humanism of the future, which we dimly divine and 
which will have experienced much that the earlier humanism knew 
not of. It will be a humanism standing in a different relation to 
the powers of the lower world, the unconscious, the Id: a relation 
bolder, freer, blither, productive of a riper art than any possible 
in our neurotic, fear-ridden, hate-ridden world. Freud is of the 
opinion that the significance of psychoanalysis as a science of the 
unconscious will in the future far outrank its value as a therapeutic 
method. But even as a science of the unconscious it is a thera- 
peutic method, in the grand style, a method overarching the indi- 
vidual case. Call this, if you choose, a poet's Utopia; but the 
thought is after all not unthinkable that the resolution of our great 
fear and our great hate, their conversion into a different relation 
to the unconscious which shall be more the artist's, more ironic 
and yet not necessarily irreverent, may one day be due to the heal- 
ing effect of this very science. 

The analytic revelation is a revolutionary force. With it a blithe 
skepticism has come into the world, a mistrust which unmasks all 
the schemes and subterfuges of our own souls. Once roused and 
on the alert, it cannot be put to sleep again. It infiltrates life, un- 
dermines its raw naivete, takes from it the strain of its own igno- 
rance, de-emotionalizes it, as it were, inculcates the taste for 
understatement, as the English call it — for the deflated rather than 
for the inflated word, for the cult which exerts its influence by 
moderation, by modesty. Modesty — what a beautiful word! In the 

Freud and the Future 389 

German it originally had to do with knowing and only later got 
its present meaning; while the Latin word from which the English 
comes means a way of doing — in short, both together give us 
almost the sense of the French savoir faire — to know how to do. 
May we hope that this may be the fundamental temper of that 
more blithely objective and peaceful world which the science of 
the unconscious may be called to usher in? 

Its mingling of the pioneer with the physicianly spirit justifies 
such a hope. Freud once called his theory of dreams "a bit of 
scientific new-found land won from superstition and mysticism." 
The word "won" expresses the colonizing spirit and significance 
of his work. "Where Id was, shall be Ego," he epigrammatically 
says. And he calls analysis a cultural labor comparable to the 
draining of the Zuider Zee. Almost in the end the traits of the 
venerable man merge into the lineaments of the gray-haired Faust, 
whose spirit urges him 

to shut the imperious sea from the shore away, 
Set narrower bounds to the broad water's waste. 

Then open I to many millions space 
Where they may live, not safe-secure, but free 
And active. And such a busy swarming I would see 
Standing amid free folk on a free soil. 

The free folk are the people of a future freed from fear and 
hate, and ripe for peace. 

William Barrett 

Writers and Madness 


Is my title extreme? It is, if you will, just the 
same subject that has been very much discussed recently under 
the titles "Art and Neurosis," "Art and Anxiety," etc. But I choose 
the more ancient and extreme term precisely to maintain conti- 
nuity with all the older instances. Is anything born ex nihilo, much 
less a phenomenon so profound and disturbing as that estranged 
neurotic, the modern writer? Even when the poet existed in his 
most unalienated condition — in ancient Greece — the similarity of 
madness and inspiration was the common saying; and Plato did 
not invent but only gave literary formulation to the belief about 
the poet's madness. Pause for a moment over this extraordinary 
paradox. They sat on sacred ground, precinct of the god, the day 
and drama were surrounded by all the occasions and overtones 
of religion, the myth known and on the whole taken as true, and 
yet. . . . And yet this audience too must exact a terrible price 
of its poet before they can take him seriously. A secret guilt per- 

Writers and Madness 391 

haps? As they sat in broad daylight indulging their collective fan- 
tasy, pretending to believe that what was before their eyes was 
in fact something else, did an uneasy stirring at this indulgence 
drive them to exact from their poet in revenge the penalty of 
madness-inspiration? But what, in any case, we do know is this: 
that even when dealing with myths whose form and details were 
completely laid down for him, the Greek poet had to launch out 
into this sea (of "madness," if we believe Plato) in order to re- 
turn to pour his own personal being into the preformed mold. 
Otherwise, his play could not have convinced an audience that 
already assumed their myth as a matter of fact — such is the para- 
dox from which we start! 

Everything Swift wrote, Leslie Stephen says with penetrating 
good sense, is interesting because it is the man himself. (If this 
is true of many other writers, there is on the other hand a special 
and compelling sense in which it holds of Swift — another reason 
for my finding his case so apposite.) Does it look as if I were 
only about to say, with Buffon, "the style is the man"? But "style" 
does not say enough, and it is not enough to remain happy with 
the judicious aphorism or with Stephen's judicious critical obser- 
vation. The modern critic cannot rest easy with this eighteenth- 
century piece of astuteness, which long ago passed into the stock 
of our critical assumptions; we begin to know too much and we 
must dig mines beneath its truth. 

But it is well to begin from such broad and obvious data of 
criticism (instances of which we could multiply indefinitely) for 
we may now pass on to the more complex and really monumental 
example provided us by James Joyce. In his Portrait of the Artist 
Joyce develops a theory of literary creation, anchored on the meta- 
physics of St. Thomas but essentially expressing the Flaubertian 
view of the writer as a god who remains above and beyond his 
creation which he manipulates as he wills. But in Finnegans Wake 
the universal human symbol of the writer has now become the 
infant Earwicker twin scrawling with his own excrement on the 
floor! (Between the two, somewhere near the midpoint of this 
remarkable evolution, Stephen Dedalus declares, in the famous 


discussion of Shakespeare in Ulysses, that the writer, setting forth 
from his door for the encounter with experience, meets only him- 
self on the doorstep). If Joyce is the great case of a rigorous and 
logical development among modern writers, each step forward 
carrying the immense weight of his total commitment and con- 
centration, we are not wrong then to find in this changing portrait 
of the artist a measure of how far he has matured as man and 
writer from the once youthful and arrogant aesthete. And if we 
will not learn from our own experience, do we not remain formal- 
ists toward literature only at the expense of neglecting Joyce's far 
deeper experience? 

But in fact we already know there is no escape from ourselves. 
Existence is a dense plenum into which we are plunged, and every 
thought, wish, and fear is "overdetermined," coming to be under 
the infinite pressures within that plenum of all other thoughts, 
wishes, and fears. Fingerprints and footprints are our own, and 
Darwin has pointed out that our inner organs differ from person 
to person as much as our faces. The signature of ourselves is 
written over all our dreams like the criminal's fingerprints across 
his crime. The writer, no more than any other man, can hope to 
escape this inescapable density of particularity. But his difference 
is precisely that he does not merely submit but insists upon this 
as his fate. It is his own voice which he wishes to resound in the 
arena of the world. He knows that the work must be his, and to 
the degree that it is less than his, to the degree that he has not 
risked the maximum of his being in it, he has missed the main 
chance, his only chance. The scientist too may insist on the per- 
sonal prerogative of discovery: he wants the new element, planet, 
or equation to bear his name; but if in this claim for prestige he 
responds to one of the deepest urges of the ego, it is only that 
this prestige itself may come to attend his person through the pub- 
lic world of other men; and it is not in the end his own being that 
is exhibited or his own voice that is heard in the learned report 
to the Academy. 

So we have come quickly to the point, and may now let the 
categories of authentic and unauthentic out of the bag. I am not 
very happy about the terms, I wish we had better in English, but 

Writers and Madness 393 

it should be clear from our instances so far that they are not 
really new notions, and that they do come forth now at the real 
pinch of the subject matter. If a certain amount of faddism has 
recently and regrettably become attached to their use, they have 
on the other hand also become obsessive for the modern mind — 
a recommendation which we, existing historically, cannot help find- 
ing a little persuasive. The Marxist will not fail to point out that 
a highly developed technology, which is not directed toward human 
ends but capable on the other hand of overrunning all areas of 
the social life, has plunged us into this civilization of the slick 
imitation, celluloid and cellophane, kitsch and chromium plating, 
in the morass of which we come inevitably to speak of "the real 
thing" and "the real right thing" with an almost religious fervor. 
And he will go on to explain then why the category of authenticity 
should play such a crucial role in modern existential thought. He 
would be right, of course, but he ought also to drop his bucket 
into the deeper waters of the well. One deeper fact is that modern 
man has lost the religious sanctions which had once surrounded 
his life at every moment with a recognizable test capable of telling 
him whether he was living "in the truth" or not; Hegel drew a 
map of the divided consciousness, and Freud explored it empiri- 
cally beyond anything Hegel ever dreamed, showing us, among 
other things, that Venus is the goddess of lies; and so we come, 
as creatures of the divided and self-alienated consciousness, to 
wrestle with the problem of how we are to live truthfully. But if 
these categories have become historically inevitable, and we bor- 
row their formulation from existentialist philosophers, we have on 
the other hand to insist that it is not these philosophers who can 
tell us, after all, how authenticity is to be achieved either in art 
or life. Freud, not Heidegger, holds the key. The mechanism by 
which any work of art becomes authentic — flooded in every nook 
and cranny with the personal being of the author — can only be 
revealed by the searchlight of psychoanalytic exploration. 

How then is authenticity — this strange and central power of a 
fantasy to convince us — achieved? A first and principal point: it 
seems to involve a fairly complete, if temporary, identification with 
the objects of fantasy. The difference between Kafka and most of 


his imitators becomes a crucial instance here. When Kafka writes 
about a hero who has become an insect, about a mouse or an ani- 
mal in a burrow, he is, during the course of the lucid hallucination 
which is his story, that insect, mouse, or animal; it is he himself 
who lives and moves through the passages and chambers of his 
burrow; while his imitators, even when they are fairly successful, 
strike us as simply using so much clever machinery borrowed from 
him and often more ingeniously baroque than his, but which lacks 
precisely that authenticity of identification. But this identification 
with the objects of fantasy is also in the direction of insanity; and 
perhaps this is just what the ancients knew: that the poet in in- 
spiration ventures as close to that undrawn border as he can, for 
the closer he goes the more vitality he brings back with him. The 
game would seem to be to go as close as possible without crossing 

Now imagine, for a moment, Swift in the modern pattern. After 
the downfall of the Harley ministry he retires to his wretched, 
dirty doghole and prison of Ireland, has a nervous breakdown, a 
crack-up, is patched together by several physicians and analysts, 
continues in circulation thereafter by drinking hard but spacing 
his liquor carefully, and dies at an earlier age of cirrhosis of the 
liver. Shall we call this: Living on the American Plan? It is the 
violence of the new world, after all, that has made a system of 
violent drinking. Now to be drunk and to go mad are both ways 
of overcoming the world. If in the interests of human economy we 
are left no choice but to prefer the American Pattern, would we 
not, however, feel a little cheated had Swift's actual history been 
different? Before the ravening gaze of his miserable species he 
flings down his madness as the gage of his commitment and pas- 
sion, and it has now become an inseparable part of the greatness 
of the human figure that rises out of history toward us. 

When Simon Dedalus Delany, amiable and easygoing, remarked 
of a mutual acquaintance that "He was a nice old gentleman," 
Swift retorted, "There is no such thing as a nice old gentleman; any 
man who had a body or mind worth a farthing would have burned 
them out long ago." Does not this become his own comment on 
his eventual madness? The man who retorted thus, it is clear, lived 

Writers and Madness 395 

with his whole being flung continuously toward the future at the 
end of the long corridor of which was the placid if disordered 
chamber of madness. To have gone mad in a certain way might 
almost seem one mode of living authentically: one has perhaps 
looked at the world without illusion and with passion. Nothing 
permits us to separate this life from this writing: if the extraordi- 
nary images the biography provides us — the old man exclaiming, 
over and over again, "I am what I am," or sitting placidly for 
hours before his Bible open on Job's lament, "let the day perish 
wherein I was born," — if these move us as symbols of a great 
human ruin, they are also the background against which we must 
read the last book of Gulliver. The game is to go as close as 
possible without crossing over: poor Gulliver the traveler has now 
slipped across the border into the country of the mad, but this 
journey itself was only a continuation of the Voyage among the 
Houyhnhnms. A moment comes and the desire to escape takes on 
a definite and terrible clothing, and the whole being is shaken by 
the convulsions of what we may call the totem urge — the wish to 
be an animal. Rat's foot, crow's skin, anything out of this human 
form! The Ainu dances and growls and is a bear, the Bororo In- 
dians chatter and become parakeets; Swift wanted to be a horse, 
a beautiful and gentle animal — and probably nobler on the whole 
than most human beings. This is the madness already present in 

We do not mean to deny all the other necessary qualities that 
are there: the once laughter-loving Dean, lover of la bagatelle, 
King of Triflers, the great eighteenth-century wit, the accomplished 
classicist. Precisely these things give Swift the great advantage over 
a writer like Celine, whose rage is, by comparison, choking and 
inarticulate — like a man spitting and snarling in our face and in 
the end only about himself, so that we are not always sure whether 
we are being moved by literature or by a mere document of some 
fearful human extremity. What for the moment I am calling "mad- 
ness," the perhaps simpler thing the Greeks called "madness," 
must somehow flow freely along the paths where all men can 
admire. If it erupts like a dam bursting it only inundates and 
swamps the neighboring fields; conducted into more indirect and 


elaborate paths, it irrigates and flows almost hidden to the eye. 
The flow from the unconscious of writer to reader would seem, 
then, to be more effective precisely where the circuit is longer 
and less direct, and capable therefore of encompassing ampler 
territory in its sweep. Lucidity, logic, form, objective dramatiza- 
tion, traditional style, taste — all these are channels into which the 
writer must let his anguish flow. And the denser his literary situa- 
tion, the more he is surrounded by a compact and articulate tra- 
dition, the more chances he can take in casting himself adrift. But 
whatever Swift's advantages in literary and moral milieu, we can- 
not forget that he himself lived to write his own epitaph and in 
this final summing-up had the last word on the once laughter- 
loving Dean. And it is just his saeva indignatio — the mad wrath 
which, as he said to Delany, did "eat his flesh and consume his 
spirits" — that establishes the deeper authenticity of Gulliver which 
separates it from any other production of eighteenth-century wit. 
He himself as Gulliver towers over his Lilliputian enemies, and 
flees from the disgusting humans into the quiet stables of the 
horses. How far his madness had already taken him, he could 
scarcely have guessed, for it had unconsciously carried him, an 
unquestioning Christian, for the moment outside Christianity: the 
rational and tranquil Houyhnhnms do not need a Messiah's blood 
and a historically revealed religion in order to be saved, while 
the Yahoos could not possibly be redeemed by any savior. Swift 
might not have gone mad after writing Gulliver, but much of the 
power of that book comes from the fact that he was already on 
the road. 

Once a writer imposes his greatness on us he imposes his figure 
totally, and we then read every scrap and scribble against the 
whole, and we will not find it strange that Joyce should invoke 
even the scrawling of the Earwicker twin as part of the image of 
Everymanthewriter. The man who wrote the charming prattle of 
the Journal to Stella is the same who comes to howl at bay before 
the human race. In his life he made two bluestockings love him 
desperately (a significant choice this, that they should be blue- 
stockings; but one, to his surprise, turned out, as sometimes hap- 
pens, a very passionate bluestocking); and one he loved all his 

Writers and Madness 397 

life long. In the simple Prayers for Stella, sublimating, he gropes, 
touches, fondles her in God. What happened beyond this we do 
not know. But we need no very fanciful imagination to guess the 
frustration which produces that mingled disgust and fascination at 
the biology of the female body. He did more, however, than re- 
lease this into a few scatological verses about milady at and on 
her toilet; he was able to project his frustration and rage into the 
helpless Irish face about him, the insouciant Saxon face, church- 
men, bishops, Lord Mayors, quacks, and pedants; "the corruptions 
and villainies of men in power"; and through these into a total 
vision of the human condition. 

Here at last we come close to the secret: if one characteristic 
of neurosis is always a displacement somewhere, then perhaps the 
test of a writer's achievement may be precisely the extent and 
richness of displacement he is able to effect. In the process of liter- 
ary expression, the neurotic mass acquires energies which are di- 
rected toward reality and seek their satisfaction in reality. As the 
writer displaces the neurotic mass further afield he is led to incor- 
porate larger and larger areas of experience into his vision. Every- 
thing begins to appear then as if the world he pictures were itself 
sufficient to generate this vision (which we may know, in fact, to 
have been rather the product of quite unconscious compulsions 
and conflicts); as if the ego, really master in its own house, were 
simply responding appropriately to the world as seen in the book. 
Thus the peculiar sense of conquest and liberation that follows 
literary creation cannot be analyzed solely as that fulfillment of 
wishes which normally occurs in daydreaming or fantasy. Why in 
that case would it be necessary to complete the literary work at 
all? And why should the liberation it gives be so much more pow- 
erful and durable? No; this conquest is also one for the ego itself, 
which now seems momentarily to have absorbed the unconscious 
into itself so that the neurotic disgust itself appears an appropriate 
response to reality. And if this is an illusion from the analyst's 
point of view, it may not always be an illusion from the moralist's 
point of view. The world as it appears in Swift's writings is, in 
the end, adequate to his madness. 



Now Swift's (unlike Cowper's, to cite another literary madman) 
was a very strong ego, and the fact that he broke in old age only 
tells us how great were the visions, tensions, and repressions he 
had to face. We do not know enough to establish his "case," but 
we know enough to say that his madness probably did not have its 
source in the literary condition at all — however much incipient 
madness may have informed and made powerful his writings. 

Do we build too much on his example then? Perhaps; but his 
figure, in its broad strong outlines (and the very simplicity of 
these outlines is to our advantage here), takes such a grip on the 
imagination that, pursuing this rather nocturnal meditation, I am 
loath to let him drop. He has taken us so far already that it seems 
worth-while to journey a little way with him still into the darkness. 

Certainly there is nothing, or very little, about Swift to make 
him a modern figure. He sits so solidly amid the prejudices and 
virtues of his age that we search in vain for any ideas in him that 
would seem to anticipate us. He was a man of parts rather than 
of ideas; and his very "rationality" is a kind of eighteenth-century 
prejudice, having little in common with what we struggle toward 
as our own, or even what the same century later in France was 
to discover so triumphantly as its own. He lived before modern 
political alternatives became very real or meaningful, and only his 
human hatred of the abuses of power might connect him remotely 
with some of our own attitudes. As a literary man, he is at the 
farthest distance from that neurotic specialist, the modern litter- 
ateur; he is not even a professional literary man in the sense of 
his contemporary, Pope, much less in the sense of the consecrated 
rentier, Flaubert. Thus we have no quarrel at all with certain pro- 
fessorial critics who point out that Swift was primarily interested 
in power and that he came by writing as an instrument of power 
or simply as a diversion. (What an unhappy conclusion, though, 
if we thought we had therefore to exclude him from something 
called "literature"!) And we might even go along a certain way 
with the generous hint of these critics that the frustration of his 

Writers and Madness 399 

desires for power explains both his misanthropy and final insanity. 

But does not logic teach us that an induction is strengthened 
more by a co nfirmin g instance further afield? and which at first 
glance might not seem to fall altogether under the class in ques- 
tion? And if Swift, who sits so solidly in his own age, leads us, 
when we but plunge deeply enough, into the world of the modern 
writer, should we not feel all the more assured that we have got 
at least a little below the surface? Already, beneath the solid out- 
lines of his eighteenth-century figure, I begin to descry the shad- 
ows and depths of a psychic type, the writer — which has emerged, 
to be sure, spectacularly only in the two following centuries. 

Now the trouble with the professors (and not only when they 
censure Swift for his craving for power) is that they have un- 
consciously created a figure of the writer in their own image: a 
well-bred person with well-tubbed and scrubbed motives, who ap- 
proaches something specialized and disinterested that they call "lit- 
erature" as if his function in the end were merely to provide them 
with books to teach. Perhaps the great writers themselves have 
unwittingly helped toward this deception? Has any one of them 
ever told us why he had to become a writer? They tell us instead: 
"To hold a mirror up to nature"; "To carry a mirror dawdling 
down a lane"; "To forge the uncreated conscience of my race"; 
etc., etc. — great blazons of triumph, formulae of their extraordi- 
nary achievement, before which we forget even to ask why they 
had to become writers. The great writer is the victorious suitor 
who has captured a beautiful bride in an incomparable marriage. 
There seems almost no point in asking him why he had to love 
and seek marriage: his reasons seem all too abundant, he has only 
to point to the incomparable attractions of his beloved. He has 
lost his private compulsions in the general — in the positive and 
admirable qualities, known to all men, of the thing achieved. (The 
Kierkegaardians, by the way, should remind themselves that life 
must be just such a conquest and appropriation of universals.) 
But life does not contain only such happy bridegrooms, otherwise 
we might never know all the enormities and paradoxes of love; 
and if there were only great geniuses among writers, perhaps we 
might never know this other truth: the compulsions and paradoxes 


on the dark side of their calling — which they, the great ones, could 
afford to forget in the daylight blaze of their triumph. 

The mistake is not to have invoked the idea of power but, once 
invoked, not to have seen it through: we have but to pursue it far 
enough and we can find it present everywhere in Swift's writings, 
and indeed the central impulse of his prose itself (perhaps the 
best in English). What is that stripped and supple syntax but the 
design of greatest possible economy and force, by which he 
launches each sentence at its mark like a potent and well-aimed 
missile? (And each missile thuds against the bestial human face 
from which he would escape.) Swift's lack of interest in being a 
literary man as such may account, then, for some of his strongest 
qualities. The conception of literature as an instrument or a diver- 
sion or even a vanity may exist along with the power to produce 
the greatest literature: Pascal's conviction of the vanity of elo- 
quence is one reason why he is a greater prose writer than Valery, 
the aesthete, who mocks at this conviction. Here it seems almost 
as if from examining Swift's writings themselves we might arrive 
at Freud's perception: that the writer is more than commonly ob- 
sessed by a desire for power which he seeks to gratify through his 
public fantasies. 

Because of an introverted disposition, he is unable to gratify 
this desire in the usual arenas of external action. Introversion is 
the brand of his calling: he is the divided man, his consciousness 
always present but a little absent, hovering over itself, ready to 
pounce and bring back some fragment to his notebooks. The intro- 
verted disposition suggests some excessive and compelling need to 
be loved; and we would suspect that here too it must result pri- 
mally from some special strength or strain in the Oedipal relation. 
But whatever our speculation as to its source, the point of power 
remains clear; and if he seeks it by a detour, the writer's claims 
are nonetheless total: it is power of the most subtle kind that the 
writer wants, power over the mind and freedom of other human 
beings, his readers. 

Such extraordinary claims of power, and particularly their in- 
directness of gratification, suggest immediately an ambivalent con- 
nection with that more than usually acute sense of guilt with which 

Writers and Madness 401 

writers as a class seem to be endowed. (That Swift suffered from 
extraordinary obsessions of guilt toward the end of his life, we 
know by accounts of several sources; but most of his life, since 
he accepted Christianity without question, these guilt feelings were 
tapped and drained off into religion; hence it is that in his writing 
we usually encounter the aggressive and outgoing parts of his per- 
sonality.) Georges Blin, in "The Gash" (Partisan Review, Spring 
1946), has presented very eloquently some of the sadistic motives 
that operate in the artist. We should expect — in accordance with 
the usual ambivalence — a masochistic pattern to be equally oper- 
ative, and perhaps even more to the fore because of the essential 
indirectness of the artist's drives toward power and sadism. What 
else explains the writer's extraordinary eagerness for the painful 
humility of his yoke as he crouches over his desk stubbornly weav- 
ing and reweaving his own being hundreds of times? "Thought, 
study, sacrifice, and mortification" — how he trembles with joy to 
put on these hair shirts of his solitude and calling! These punish- 
ments he inflicts upon himself over his desk will help to make 
clear then why writing should satisfy the claims of guilt upon him; 
why he should search so passionately for redemption upon the 
written page, and why as the paragraph takes shape beneath his 
pen he can feel for moments that his step has become a little less 
heavy on the face of the earth. But we should also know this 
ambivalence of power and guilt from phenomenological scrutiny. 
We never live in a purely private world, our consciousness is pene- 
trated at every point by the consciousness of others, and what is 
it but one step from seeking redemption in one's own eyes to seek- 
ing it in the eyes of others? The movement by which we stoop to 
lift ourselves out of the pit of self-contempt is one and unbroken 
with that thrust which would carry us above the shoulders of our 

And is not this ambivalent urge to power-guilt but the sign of 
that excessive need to be loved which has driven the writer into 
a profession where he must speak with his own voice, offer to the 
public gaze of the world so much of his own existence? Love to 
be conquered by force, or taken as a gift of tenderness and pity 
for his confession. 


But both the satisfaction (of power) and relief (from guilt), 
though they glow brightly, glow, alas, only for moments, and we 
live again in the shadow of ourselves. Nothing in the world (we 
are told) is a substitute for anything else, and if there is a point 
beyond which the writer can never satisfy these urges in literature 
itself, then this inability can no longer be regarded as peculiar to 
Swift, a deficiency of his "case," but an essential and mortifying 
aspect of the literary condition everywhere. So we come back to 
our point: Swift is certainly not a modern literary man, but we 
only had to go deep enough, and we have arrived at a world of 
impulses and motives that we recognize as our own. 


Despite the ancient recognition, the modern world of the 
crack-up and breakdown has really become a new and almost dis- 
continuous phenomenon. (First the continuity; now we must do 
justice to the other aspect, the discontinuity of the modern.) It 
is time we had an exhaustive and statistical study of the problem, 
done with the grubbing thoroughness of a Ph.D. thesis; for the 
present I would only suggest some of the main statistical cate- 
gories: the madmen, those who broke, Swift, Cowper, William 
Collins, Christopher Smart, Hoelderlin, Ruskin; figures who were 
not altogether normal, if not altogether mad, like Blake; who, like 
Coleridge and DeQuincey, had to salvage themselves through drugs 
(the Romantic equivalent of the American Pattern) ; or who pro- 
duce their writing out of a maximum anxiety, their personal rack 
of torture, like Baudelaire and Eliot; and from these on we could 
ramify off into all the various subtler neuroses that have afflicted 
literary men. Even from this sketchy suggestion of a list it begins 
to appear that the incidence of aberration, neurosis, or outright 
madness is such that one really begins to doubt whether these mis- 
fortunes are accidental to the profession of letters as such. 1 And 
at this point perhaps we ought to face openly the question whether 
there is not some original flaw — original sin, if you will — about 
the profession such that the writer's struggle to live it out com- 

Writers and Madness 403 

pletely must inevitably involve him in some kind of hubris; and 
whether, after all, the game is really worth the candle. Freud at 
one earlier point did suggest something like this: that art is a 
survival in our day of primitive magic, with some of the magical 
still hanging about its aspirations; which did not at all prevent 
him, we may notice, from deriving very deep pleasure and insight 
from great works of literature. 

The fault, the accumulating difficulty, seem to come from the 
very advance itself of Western culture and history. In a story by 
Jean Paulhan, "Aytre qui perd I'habitude" (Aytre Loses the 
Knack), the hero keeps a journal while leading a trek across 
Madagascar. En route across the country the entries in the journal 
are very simple and direct: we arrive, leave, chickens cost seven 
sous, we lay in a provision of medicines, etc. But with the arrival 
in the city of Ambositra the journal suddenly becomes compli- 
cated: discussions of ideas, women's headdresses, strange scenes 
and characters in the street. The most ordinary incidents of daily 
life become complicated and almost unexpressible to Aytre strug- 
gling to keep his journal. Paulhan is after other game in this tale, 
where we need not follow him; enough for us that we can take this 
journey of Aytre for a symbol of the march of writers in history as 
they progress toward subjects ever more complex, driven by the 
compulsion to "make it new." From this point of view Paulhan's 
title itself becomes something of a misnomer: Aytre's trouble is 
not that he has lost the knack — quite the contrary, he now has 
altogether too much of it. Become infinitely complicated, all- 
absorbing, possessive, now the knack has him. Aytre, in short, has 
become a modern writer. He had begun as the simple scribe of the 

"Make it new," Pound cried, and Eliot further explicated: Mod- 
ern poetry must be complicated because modern life is complicated. 
Both have passed into famous slogans in defense of modernism; 
but both abbreviate what is a much more complicated process, and 
have to be expanded in the light or darkness of Aytre's painful 
journey. The writer objectifies his fantasies (that much of Freudian 
formula we have to use in any case) but he must return to view 
them with the analytic eyes of daylight and criticism. But this real- 


ity to which he submits is not what he meets if he gazes out into 
the world with the naked eyes of the first-born man; the reality 
principle for the writer is one qualified by the works, the recorded 
experience and knowledge of man, already in existence. After 
Proust no one can write about love with the old charming simplicity 
of Prevost. It would be pastiche: archaic and unauthentic. In 
Prevost it charms us, it is real and convincing. At his cultural 
moment, love — as the simple lovely disease of sensibility — was 
itself an extraordinary donnee, and the writer could find such re- 
lease in it that he was capable of the necessary identification with 
his fantasy. (Even when a form like the novel swings back mo- 
mentarily into a simpler pattern, the new simplicity is quite dif- 
ferent from the old; the simplicity of Gide is not the old simplicity 
of the classical French novel, but a new one — self-conscious, diffi- 
cult, refined, defining its slender fine from the sum of its rejec- 
tions.) Hence it appears that Pound's manifesto, and Eliot's rec- 
ommendation of a complication to parallel the complication of 
modern life, formulate effect rather than cause; we ought instead 
to put it that the writer, existing in his time, in his place, and with 
his past must make such discoveries as to secure the completeness 
of release necessary to achieve authenticity. If he repeats what is 
already discovered, he has no chance of making it Ms. That is why 
his existence is relentlessly historical and he has to travel Aytre's 
journey. Now the reality principle functions in life chiefly (or its 
function is felt more forcibly there) to inhibit the gratification of 
desire. Its literary analogue functions in the same way: it checks 
the writer from releasing himself into the fantasies that are unreal, 
trivial, or superficial. To find his authenticity, a material into 
which he is completely released, the writer has now to dig ever 
deeper, the unconscious that is released must be at deeper and 
deeper levels. So he finds, like Aytre, the literary "knack" become 
absorbing and terrifying. Hence the burden of neurosis that weighs 
more and more heavily upon the modern man of letters. 

Writers and Madness 405 


The more gifted the writer the more likely he is to be critically 
conscious of his literary tradition — the more conscious, that is, of 
the reality principle as it operates in the literary sphere — and the 
harder it becomes for him to fall into one of the easy publicist styles 
of his day. Recently I read about a young writer who had written 
a best-seller in four weeks and made $400,000 out of it — $100,000 
a week, almost as good pay as a movie star. If books could be 
written from the top of one's mind merely (even books of this 
kind), it is naive to think a major writer would not do it: after 
four weeks of absence he returns to support himself for many years 
in the prosecution of his own unremunerative and serious tasks. 
But it seems impossible to write a best-seller in complete parody, 
one has to believe in one's material even there, and it is impossible 
to fake unless one is a fake. Joyce has written in Ulysses a superb 
parody of the sentimental romance for schoolgirls, but it is quite 
obvious from that chapter that Joyce could not have turned out a 
novel in this genre for money: his irony and self-consciousness 
would have got in the way, and the book would not have attracted 
its readers but in the end only Joyce's readers. The writer writes 
what he can, and if he decides to sell out it is by corrupting and 
cheapening his own level, or perhaps slipping down a step below 
it; but writing is not so uncommitted an intellectual effort that he 
can drop down facilely to a very much lower level and operate 
with enough skill there to convince that kind of reader. Joyce did 
not write Finnegans Wake out of a free decision taken in the void, 
but because his experience of life and Western culture was what it 
was, and he had to write that book if he was to write anything. 

It is perhaps not a very pleasant thought, but it seems inescap- 
able, that even the commonest best-seller is the product of the 
personal being of the author and demands its own kind of authen- 
ticity. Life also imprisons us in its rewards; and we may draw some 
satisfaction from the thought that these gay reapers of prestige 
and money, if they are to keep on terms with their audience, can 
have in the end only lives adequate to their books: On ecrit le 


livre qu'on merite. Our satisfaction might be greater if we were 
not on the other hand also painfully acquainted with the opposite 
phenomenon: the gifted people who find it difficult to produce 
precisely because they are too intelligent and sensitive to tailor 
their writing to the reigning market. The very awareness of stand- 
ards inhibits them from writing, and, not being geniuses, they are 
unable to break through and produce anything adequate to those 
standards. The literary future in America, and perhaps the West 
generally, seems to be leading to this final and lamentable split: on 
the one hand, an enormous body of run-of-the-mill writing (ma- 
chine-made, as it were), becoming ever more slick as it becomes 
more technically adequate through abundant competition and ap- 
propriation of the tricks of previous serious writing, and in the 
end generating its own types of pseudo authenticity, like Stein- 
beck or Marquand; on the other hand, an occasional genius break- 
ing through this wall here and there, at ever more costly price in 
personal conflict, anguish, and difficulty. Modern poetry already 
provides us its own and extreme version of this exacerbating split; 
think of the extremity of personal difficulty required to produce 
the authentic poetry of our time: the depth of anguish which se- 
creted the few poems of Eliot; and Yeats, we remember, had to 
struggle through a long life of political unrest, personal heartbreak, 
see the friends and poets of his youth die off or kill themselves, 
before he came into his own and could produce poems capable 
of convincing us that this poetry was not merely a kind of "solemn 

Some of the more internal difficulties that beset the pursuit of 
literature are being very much discussed in France by writers like 
Maurice Blanchot and Brice Parain. Blanchot finishes one essay, in 
which he has explored certain aspects of anxiety, silence, and ex- 
pression, with the devastating remark, "It is enough that literature 
should continue to seem possible," though the reader by the time 
he has waded through Blanchot's rarefactions to that point may 
very well have lost the conviction that even the possibility re- 
mained. These French researches are of a quite special character, 
continuing the tradition of Mallarme — or, rather, attempting to see 
the aesthetic problems of Mallarme from the human anguish of 

Writers and Madness 407 

Pascal. (As the burdens of civilization become heavier and we see 
existence itself with fewer illusions, we have come perhaps to share 
Pascal's attitude toward poetry: a vanity, a "solemn game"; at 
any rate, we seem to demand more of the modern writer before 
we take him very seriously. ) These difficulties are extreme and we 
need not share them in that form: after the rigors to which 
Mallarme submitted poetry in his search for a "langage authen- 
tique," no wonder silence should appear as the only and haunting 
possibility of speech. After Mallarme, poetry had to swing back 
toward the language of what he calls "universel reportage," and 
Eliot's poetry has shown us that this language, suitably charged 
and concentrated, can be the vehicle of very great poetry. Blanchot's 
difficulties persist but in another form (especially in a commercial 
culture). Not silence but garrulousness ("unauthenic chatter," as 
Heidegger would say) may be the threat confronting the writer; 
but always and everywhere the difficulty of securing authenticity. 
The difficulties we face in America — a society which turns, as 
Van Wyck Brooks says, its most gifted men into crackpots — are 
obviously of a much more external and violent kind than in France. 
External pressures abet the internal tensions, which become un- 
endurable, and at long last comes that slide over into the more 
tranquil and private self-indulgence of fantasy with a consequent 
weakening of the reality principle. One (a critic) develops a pri- 
vate language; another spins out elaborate literary theories without 
content or relevance; a third has maintained his literary alertness 
and eye for relevance through a sheer aggressiveness which has 
cost him his ability to maintain personal relations — and which 
appears therefore in his work as a mutilation too. Scott Fitzgerald's 
confidante in "The Crack-up" (perhaps his most mature piece of 
writing, at that) gives him the extraordinary advice: "Listen. Sup- 
pose this wasn't a crack in you — suppose it was in the Grand 
Canyon. . . . By God, if I ever cracked, I'd try to make the whole 
world crack with me." And she was right and profound, but Fitz- 
gerald was tied by too many strings to the values of American life 
to see her truth. His crack-up was the dawning of a truth upon 
him which he could not completely grasp or recognize intellectu- 
ally. Swift in that position would have seen that the crack is in 


the Grand Canyon, in the whole world, in the total human face 
about him. If he is powerful enough — now against greater odds — 
to make the world crack in his work, the writer has at the least 
the gratification of revenge, and the ego that deeper conquest (de- 
scribed above) where its anguish now seems no more than an 
appropriate response to a world portrayed (and with some fidelity) 
as cracked. But, alas, these energies which seek reality and are 
capable of transforming the neurotic mass into the writer's special 
and unique vision of the world can also be blocked by the external 
difficulties in the literary situation. And when that happens we 
open the door, as Freud says, to the psychoses — at any rate, to 
the breakdown and crack-up. 


And so I am brought back into the center of my theme. If I 
appeared to have abandoned the theme of neurosis for the difficul- 
ties, external and internal, that confront the modern writer, it was 
only because these difficulties as part of his alienation are the 
aggravating causes and public face of his madness. 

But why (in the end) should it be the writer's fate — more than 
of any other intellectual profession — to confront this crack in the 
face of the world? Because his subject is the very world of experi- 
ence as such, and it is this world, this total world, which he must 
somehow salvage. The scientist has his appointed place in the com- 
munity of researchers, he confronts carefully delimited fragments 
of experience, the data from which he proceeds are publicly recog- 
nizable, and his whole being is to be, as it were, an incarnate out- 
ward public mind. But the writer is alone — potentially twenty-four 
hours a day, the luminal pill and the writing pad beside his bed for 
whatever welcome or unwelcome presence